Contains selective news articles I select

Posts tagged ‘Land of the Roman Empire’

China virus cases stabilize as Italy sees drop in deaths

June 28, 2020

BEIJING (AP) — China has extended COVID-19 tests to newly reopened salons amid a drop in cases, while South Korea continues to face new infections after it eased social distancing rules to lift the economy.

In the U.S., Vice President Mike Pence called off off a planned campaign bus tour in Florida following a surge in confirmed cases there. Hard-hit Italy, meanwhile, registered the lowest day-to-day tally of COVID-19 deaths Saturday in almost three months.

No positive cases were found in Beijing’s beauty and barber shops in a further sign that the city’s recent outbreak has been largely brought under control. Beijing officials have temporarily shut a huge wholesale food market where the virus spread widely, reclosed schools and locked down some neighborhoods. Anyone leaving Beijing is required to have a negative virus test result within the previous seven days.

Tens of millions of Chinese traveled during the three-day Dragon Boat Festival that ended Saturday, with no outbreaks reported immediately. The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said that 40 of the newly reported cases were domestically infected, while 22 others came from overseas. The bulk of the local cases were detected in the densely populated Seoul metropolitan area, linked to nightclubs, church services, a huge e-commerce warehouse and low-income workers.

In Hawaii, the city of Honolulu announced that campgrounds will reopen for the first time in three months with limited permits to ensure social distancing. In contrast, Washington Gov. Jay Inslee put a hold on plans to move counties to the fourth phase of his reopening plan as cases continue to increase.

In a further sign of the impact on the U.S economy, Tyson Foods has announced that 371 employees at its chicken processing plant in the far southwestern corner of Missouri have tested positive for COVID-19.

Pence canceled a planned bus tour in Florida to benefit his and President Donald Trump’s reelection, as state health officials on Saturday reported more than 9,500 new cases, surpassing the previous day’s total by more than 600 confirmed cases. The figures come as officials move to reclose beaches and discourage bar gatherings.

Kansas, Idaho and Oklahoma were also among U.S. states seeing a sharp rise in case. While the rise partly reflects expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the scourge is making a comeback, including increasing deaths and hospitalizations in parts of the country and higher percentages of virus tests coming back positive.

According to Italy’s Health Ministry data, there were eight deaths of infected patients since Friday, raising the nation’s known toll in the pandemic to 34,716. There were 175 new cases, bringing the overall count of confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country where Europe’s outbreak first exploded to 240,136. In a sign the country was emerging from the crisis, fewer than 100 infected patients were occupying ICU beds nationwide for the first time since the very early days of the outbreak,

European leaders were taking no chances, however. German authorities renewed a lockdown in a western region of about 500,000 people in the past week after about 1,300 slaughterhouse workers tested positive for COVID-19.

Serbia’s government says Defense Minister Aleksandar Vulin tested positive for the coronavirus. Known for his highly pro-Russian stance, Vulin was part of Serbia’s delegation led by President Aleksandar Vucic that attended a Victory Day parade this week in Moscow. Vucic met face-to-face with Russian President Vladimir Putin, but it was not clear whether Vulin did so as well.

Britain’s government is expected to scrap a 14-day quarantine requirement that forced people to self-isolate upon returning home from abroad. India’s confirmed coronavirus cases crossed half a million on Saturday with another record 24-hour jump of 18,552 infections.

Egypt has largely reopened. In Cairo, a metropolis of some 20 million people, coffee shops reopened Saturday to receive in-house customers but the smoking of “sheesha” from hookah waterpipes was still on hold.

Deaths in the U.S. are running at about 600 per day, down from a peak of around 2,200 in mid-April. Some experts have expressed doubt that deaths will return to that level because of advances in treatment and because many infections are happening in younger adults, who are more likely than older ones to survive.

The virus is blamed for more than 125,000 deaths and over 2.5 million confirmed infections nationwide in the U.S., by Johns Hopkins’ count. But health officials believe the true number of infections is about 10 times higher. Worldwide, the virus has claimed close to a half-million lives with nearly 10 million cases.

The resurgence in the U.S. has drawn concern from abroad. The European Union seems almost certain to bar Americans in the short term from entering the bloc, which is currently drawing up new travel rules, EU diplomats said.

Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.

Italy far-right clash briefly with cops during day of demos

June 06, 2020

ROME (AP) — Right-wing protesters briefly confronted journalists and police in Rome on Saturday during a day of demonstrations around the country. Soccer “ultras” and supporters of the far-right Forza Nuova movement massed on Rome’s downtown Circus Maximus field for an anti-government protest. Some made the fascist Roman salute.

At one point, some of the protesters tried to chase journalists away with bottles and flares. A line of riot police moved in, sparking several minutes of tension before the crowd moved elsewhere. Another anti-government protest was held in Milan.

Also in Italy on Saturday, hundreds of people demonstrated in front of the U.S. Consulate in Naples to show solidarity with George Floyd, the black man who while handcuffed had a white Minneapolis police officer’s knee pressed on his neck and whose death has sparked a week of protests in the U.S. and beyond.

Italy’s seas speak: No tourists or boats mean cleaner water

May 30, 2020

FIUMICINO, Italy (AP) — Pollution from human and agriculture waste spilling into the seas off Rome has decreased 30% during Italy’s coronavirus lockdown, preliminary results from a nationwide survey of seawater quality indicate.

Authorities stressed it was too soon to give the lockdown sole credit for the change, saying that shifting sea currents and limited rainfall in April and May also could have been responsible for reduced runoff of livestock and fertilizer waste.

But Marco Lupo, director general of the Lazio region’s environmental agency, hypothesized that the evaporation of tourism starting in March could have reduced the amount of sewage produced by the 30 million tourists who normally visit Rome each year.

In addition, the lockdown meant Italians couldn’t flock to their seaside vacation homes as they normally would in spring, a phenomenon that typically overwhelms local water treatment plants and results in increased pollutants spewing into the seas, Lupo said.

“This year, coastal towns have been much less populated, decreasing the (human-caused pollution) burden” on the water, he told The Associated Press. There’s no indication seas will stay cleaner, since the lockdown is ending and any pollution reduction may be temporary.

But scientists around the world have documented some remarkable ecological changes as a result of travel ceasing, industrial production in many countries grinding to a halt and people staying home. Air pollution is down in some of the world’s smoggiest cities, while wildlife such as coyotes and boars have been seen in urban areas.

Off Italy’s coasts, which are popular and occasionally polluted, there are visible effects of the lockdown. With the usually busy Gulf of Naples cleared of pleasure boats, cargo and cruise ships, dolphins usually only seen far out in the Mediterranean flock close to shore. Jellyfish have been spotted in the empty canals of Venice.

During the lockdown, fishermen are pulling in bigger hauls than usual off Rome’s main industrial port at Civitavecchia. In April, for example, fishermen pulled in 60,000 kilograms (132,277 pounds) of fish compared with 52,000 kilograms (114,640 pounds) during the same month last year.

Roberto Arciprete, a marine biologist with Civitavecchia’s local fishing cooperative, hypothesized that the sharp reduction in maritime traffic had resulted in more fish swimming closer to shore. Environment Minister Sergio Costa noted that the coronavirus emergency, while tragic given the loss of life, offered an unprecedented opportunity to create a “photograph” of Italy’s seas. Costa on April 15 tasked the Coast Guard and other law enforcement agencies to work with regional environmental authorities to take water samples and monitor and assess changes in the seas off Italy’s 8,000 kilometers (4,971 miles) of coastline.

The results will provide data and a baseline from which the country can reboot industrial production sustainably and create “a new normal that we know is absolutely necessary,” he said. “This can give us a point of departure, actually a point of re-departure,” he said in a statement. “This photograph will become the point of reference for the future controls of the seas, lakes and rivers, so that nature and our country can be better cared for.”

Coast Guard Adm. Vincenzo Leone, who is responsible for the Lazio region, said it was appropriate to seize the moment to determine if an elimination of tourism and boating had a measurable effect on water quality. He described the sampling underway as a “blood test of the sea.”

“There is only one sea and we must protect it,” he said. “So when the sea talks to us, we have to listen to it.”

Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.

Italy opens churches as virus rules dictate how to eat, pray

May 18, 2020

VATICAN CITY (AP) — Italy and the Vatican allowed the first public Masses to be celebrated since March on Monday as coronavirus restrictions eased further, following a sharp confrontation between church and state over limits on worshiping in the era of COVID-19.

Guards in hazmat suits took the temperature of the faithful entering St. Peter’s Basilica, where Pope Francis celebrated an early morning Mass for a handful of people to commemorate the centenary of the birth of St. John Paul II.

Across town, the Rev. Jose Maria Galvan snapped on a latex glove and face mask before distributing Communion to the dozen parishioners attending the 7:20 a.m. Mass at his Sant’Eugenio parish. “Before I became a priest I was a surgeon, so for me gloves are normal,” he joked afterward. “I’m dexterous (with gloves) so the hosts don’t get away from me.”

It was all part of Italy’s next step in emerging from the West’s first coronavirus lockdown, with commercial shops and restaurants reopening and barbers giving long-overdue trims for the first time since March 10.

But with several hundred new infections still being recorded every day, the reopening is hardly a free-for-all, with strict virus-containing measures regulating everything from how you get your coffee to the way you pray.

The government has published 120 pages of detailed norms for the resumption of work, play, worship and commerce, with some of the most intricate protocols reserved for the resumption of public religious observance.

The fear is that the elderly, among the most religiously devout and also the most at-risk for infection, could be exposed to the virus with resumed religious services in the onetime European epicenter of the pandemic.

Catholics, Jews, Muslims, Buddhists, Orthodox and Siks have their own protocols, with at the very least masks required for the faithful and a one-meter distance kept at all times. The first protocol was inked with the country’s Catholic bishops, after they issued a blistering public critique of Premier Giuseppe Conte’s government when it refused to allow public Masses two weeks ago, during the first easing of restrictions.

The bishops cried their freedom to worship was being trampled on, suggesting they believed the state was violating the terms of the Lateran Treaty, the 1929 accord that regulates the relationship between the Italian state and the Vatican.

Eventually an accord was reached, but it imposes a series of restrictions on access and even the administration of the sacraments: At Sant’Eugenio, the Sunday 11 a.m. Mass usually exceeds 500 people. Now only 150 can attend. Everyone must wear a face mask and sit 1-meter apart.

There’s no holy water or choir, and unused pews for the morning Mass were roped off with tape to keep them sanitized for when the bigger crowds come later in the day. Priests must wear gloves during Communion and “take care to offer the host without coming into contact with the hands of the faithful,” according to the protocol. It goes without saying that the priest doesn’t place the Eucharistic host on the tongue of the faithful, as is the Vatican’s preferred way.

But Pope Francis has made clear he supports the measures, even if he bristled early on at the lockdown and said livestreamed Masses can never be a substitute for the real thing. In his Sunday noon prayer, he welcomed the resumption of communal church celebrations and the reception of sacraments but appealed for caution: “Please, let’s go ahead (following) the rules and prescriptions we’ve been given to care for the health of each and everyone.”

The Vatican has its own post-lockdown reopening norms, and as a sovereign state, is not beholden to the Italian government measures. But in some cases it is going beyond them, with the guards bearing thermo-scanners in St. Peter’s Square taking the temperatures of anyone who wants to enter the basilica.

During a Mass later Monday in front of John Paul II’s tomb in the basilica, Lucina Wodzisz, her husband and two boys wore face masks but the priest didn’t. And he didn’t use a latex glove when distributing Communion, either.

But Wodzisz was thrilled anyway to be able to celebrate the centenary of John Paul’s birth by visiting his tomb. The Polish family is particularly devoted to the former Karol Wojtyla (the eldest Wodzisz son is named Karol) and had only hoped to pray before his tomb on the first day St. Peter’s reopened to the public.

“We came to be close to the tomb, but we got a Mass!” she marveled. “It’s a great sensation to be back.”

Virus lockdown gives Venice a shot at reimagining tourism

May 16, 2020

VENICE, Italy (AP) — In Venice, a city famous for being visited by too many and home to too few, children’s play now fills neighborhood squares, fishermen sell their catch to home cooks, and water buses convey masked and gloved commuters to businesses preparing to reopen.

At the same time, the famed lacquered black gondolas remain moored to the quay; hotel rooms are empty, museum doors sealed; and St. Mark’s Square — normally teeming in any season — is traversed at any given moment by just a handful of souls after tourists abandoned the city in late February.

For years, Venice has faced an almost existential crisis, as the unbridled success of its tourism industry threatened to ruin the things that have drawn visitors for centuries. Now the coronavirus pandemic has dammed off the tide of tourists and hobbled the city’s economy.

Residents hope the crisis has also provided an opportunity to reimagine one of the world’s most fragile cities, creating a more sustainable tourism industry and attracting more full-time residents. The pandemic — following on the heels of a series of exceptional floods in November that dealt a first economic blow — ground to a halt Italy’s most-visited city, stanching the flow of 3 billion euros ($3.2 billion) in annual tourism-related revenue, the vast majority of the city’s intake. Promised government assistance has been predictably slow to arrive.

The city that has inspired painters like Canaletto and Turner is now a blank canvas. “This allows us to rethink life in the historic center,” said Mayor Luigi Brugnaro, speaking in the empty piazza in front of St. Mark’s Basilica this week.

The population of the historic center has shrunk to some 53,000, down by one-third from a generation ago. To help repopulate the center, Brugnaro favors a proposal from the city’s Ca’ Foscari university to rent to students apartments that had been removed from housing stock as tourist rentals. The mayor imagines a dynamic he witnessed in Boston, where those who come to study fall in love with the city and stay.

Brugnaro also wants to create a center to study climate change, given the city’s vulnerability to flooding, that could attract scientists who would become residents. He imagines triggering a sort of Renaissance that would bring other foreign residents — creatives — who for centuries were the city’s lifeblood.

He would like to resize the hit-and-run mass tourism on which the economy depends. “Venice is a slow city,” Brugnaro said. “The slowness of Venice is the beauty of Venice.” Visions for Venice’s future include calls to offer tax breaks to bring traditional manufacturing back to the historic center. Civic groups have suggested incentives to restore traditional ways of Venetian life, like the standing rowboats used for centuries by residents but that struggle to compete with motorized boats. There is hope that tourist trap shops that disappeared after the shutdown will be replaced with more sustainable businesses.

Bevilacqua — the maker of luxury textiles used by fashion houses such as Dior, Valentino and Dolce&Gabbana — is the only manufacturer in operation on the Grand Canal. “To relaunch, Venice must return to its past,” said Rodolfo Bevilacqua. “You cannot, and I will use a heavy term, profane it daily. That is, people who don’t clean up after themselves.”

While the pandemic has offered a glimpse at a cleaner, slower Venice, already there are signs of how hard it will be to maintain that, let alone implement grander plans. Jane da Mosto, executive director of the NGO We Are Here Venice, notes that bars that have begun to reopen are serving with disposable plates and cutlery — not more sustainable alternatives.

Debates over how to manage tourism have always been heated in Venice and are especially fraught now. Venice’s controversial plan to impose a tax on day-trippers has been put aside — and many object that any such system would give the city even more of a theme park air.

The mayor and tourism officials estimate it will be at least a year until tourists — who have numbered 30 million a year — return in any significant numbers. While many are reveling in the drop in noise pollution and improved air quality, a year without tourists also means many jobs will be wiped out.

“It will be a fight for survival,” said Claudio Scarpa, the head of the Venetian hotel association. The docking of cruise ships is halted for this year. Gondoliers aren’t being permitted to glide through the canals until June 1, and many are struggling, having received just one payment of 600 euros from the government.

Their future even after that date remains uncertain. The gondolier’s position at the rear of the boat allows enough distance to spare them the mask requirement. But Andrea Balbi, the head of the association representing the city’s 433 gondoliers, said that the rules so far won’t permit them to help tourists on and off the rocky boats. The extended hand is not just a courtesy, Balbi said, but a condition of insurance coverage.

Arrigo Cipriani, the owner of Harry’s Bar, said he is not even thinking about opening the wood-paneled, canal-side bar made famous by Ernest Hemingway until health restrictions are relaxed. His bar offers some of the best people-watching in Venice over peachy Bellini cocktails — but it is just 9½ meters by 4 meters (30 feet by 13 feet), which under current rules would allow only a fraction of the usual clientele.

“Hospitality means freedom. It means an absence of imposition,” Cipriani said — and doesn’t happen over a mask. Nearby, the Hotel Saturnia is spacing out its bar tables to reopen next Monday. “We want to send a positive message,” said owner Gianni Serandrei.

Brugnaro, the mayor, is hoping to send a signal of recovery by staging the popular Redeemer’s festival in July. The annual event celebrates the end of the plague in 1577 — one of the most disastrous episodes in Venetian history — with a regatta and a spectacular fireworks display.

“It will be something out of this world to see,” he said, “watching from a boat in St. Mark’s Basin.”

Italy’s South Tyrol invokes autonomy to pry open lockdown

May 13, 2020

BOLZANO, Italy (AP) — The blazing orange letters of fire spelled out a familiar message in Italy’s South Tyrol province, an old call to resistance repurposed for the days of the coronavirus: ‘’Los von Rom’’ and ‘’Freiheit,’’ German for ‘’Away from Rome’’ and ‘’Freedom.’’

In decades past, the words ignited on a mountainside demanded independence from Rome’s rule for the province’s German-language majority. Now, they vent discontent in South Tyrol, which was once part of Austria, with the uncompromising and indiscriminate way the Italian government imposed a lockdown to slow the spread of the coronavirus.

Spurred by economic pressure, the provincial governor defied Rome this week and reasserted South Tyrol’s cherished autonomy, allowing restaurants, hair salons, tattoo parlors and museums to reopen Monday — well ahead of the timetable set by Italy’s government.

‘’We have a relatively positive situation regarding the epidemic, with a rate of contagion the lowest in Italy,’’ said Gov. Arno Kompatscher, whose South Tyrolean People’s Party has controlled the province since 1948. The party’s legislators in the national parliament back Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte’s government.

‘’We appreciated the actions of the government in the phase of emergency, where it was necessary to move in a united way,” Kompatscher said. “But we are very proud and jealous of our autonomy.’’ While the rest of Italy watched with a mix of envy and curiosity, South Tyroleans wearing masks could browse shops again for items such as a tablecloth needed for a gift, have piercings changed by appointment and visit a hairdresser for a long-overdue haircut.

They sat in Walther Square, near Bolzano’s Duomo, and ate lunch at the prescribed 2-meter (over 6 foot) distance or drank coffee in bars outfitted with Plexiglas safety screens. Despite the province’s bold stance, some business owners demurred to Rome — for now.

Alexander Sullmann, a bar owner in the town of Neumarkt, known in Italian as Egna, said he was waiting at least a week to see if clearer safety guidelines for his industry emerge. He was particularly worried about how to enforce rules that forbid more than two people from different households at a single table.

‘’The province gave us the OK, but there are a lot of questions and a lot of rules are not set in stone yet,’’ Sullmann, 30, said, South Tyrol, or Alto Adige to Italian speakers, is an Alpine province of world-class ski resorts and neatly manicured orchards and vineyards that became part of Italy after World War I. Following a period of violence in the 1950s and 1960s, the German-speaking resistance settled down after Italy implemented the province’s autonomy status, enshrining bilingualism and allowing 90% of local tax revenue to remain in South Tyrol.

The province, with a population of 520,000, today enjoys the highest gross domestic product per capita in Italy and among the highest in Europe at 42,600 euros ($45,500). But the pandemic is forecast to contract the economy by as much as 11%, which could get worse depending on the virus’ trajectory.

The head of the region’s 59,000-member chamber of commerce, Michl Ebner, backed the push for South Tyrol to go its own way on emerging from the virus lockdown. ‘’I understand the concept of solidarity,’’ Ebner said. ‘’But you cannot apply the same rules from Lampedusa to the Brenner Pass. The situations are different.’’

South Tyrol reported no new confirmed virus cases on Tuesday. The province so far has 2,572 confirmed cases with 290 deaths — both figures representing about 1% of Italy’s totals. Ebner pointed to a lack of discipline in Italy’s hard-hit Lombardy region during the early stage of an initial lockdown, when cellphone data showed about half of residents leaving their homes.

In South Tyrol, ‘’when the order was given not to leave home, people didn’t leave their homes,’’ he said. ‘’If here the numbers are improving … we need to take note and award the virtuous.’’ While the government successfully blocked the southern region of Calabria’s efforts to reopen ahead of the national schedule, South Tyrol managed to avoid significant legal challenge due to its self-governance statute.

Until the flaming words that appeared recently against the night sky, it had been years since fires protesting Rome’s governance burned on local mountainsides. The leader of the 6,000-strong ‘’Schuetzen,’’ a cultural association that aims to preserve Tyrolean customs and which sees Rome as a foreign power — took credit for igniting the flames. Juergen Wirth Anderlan thinks the ’’peaceful message″ made Kampatscher’s push to open businesses easier to sell to Rome’s minister for regional affairs.

’’He could say, ‘I don’t have my people under control, there is something bubbling up there’,’’ Wirth Anderlan told the AP. ‘’What the economic federations and tourism federations told the provincial president was probably heavier and carried more pressure than from us. We underscored that with these fires.’’

Wirth Anderlan said he rejects the violence of past secession moves — although he wants to see South Tyrol become either independent or annexed by Austria. Neither position is on the mainstream South Tyrol political agenda, and both are widely seen as limited to a fringe.

South Tyrol’s governor said the best way to deal with such separatist sentiment is with strong management of the region’s autonomy — which he believes itself can be an asset to Italy. ‘’Alto Adige is a little Europe within Europe that is part of the Italian state, where multiple ethnic groups, cultures and languages co-exist, and which can act as a bridge between northern and southern Europe,’’ Kompatscher said.

UK overtakes Italy with most official virus deaths in Europe

May 05, 2020

LONDON (AP) — Britain now has Europe’s highest official coronavirus death toll after the latest round of daily figures Tuesday showed it overtaking Italy. Only the United States has recorded more virus-related deaths.

The British government said another 693 people died in hospitals, nursing homes and other settings after testing positive for COVID-19, taking the total to 29,427 — above Italy’s 29,315. Though the U.K.’s coronavirus-related death toll, when measured on a seven-day rolling basis, has been falling consistently for the past three to four weeks, the country is around two weeks behind Italy in terms of the pandemic. The tallies are likely underestimates because they do not include suspected coronavirus deaths.

Taking into account countries’ populations, the U.K.’s per capita death rate is below those in Italy, Spain and Belgium. And the U.S. is below them all even though it has the highest number of registered COVID-19 deaths with more than 70,000.

British Foreign Secretary Dominic Raab said the number of deaths was a “massive tragedy,” but added that it was too soon to make reliable international comparisons, partly because of apparent differences in the way countries report deaths.

“I don’t think we’ll get a real verdict on how well countries have done until the pandemic is over and particularly until we’ve got comprehensive international data on all-cause mortality,” he said. There is a growing consensus among scientists and statisticians that the best way to assess deaths eventually will be to measure how many more people died than would normally have been expected to die in any particular year.

Professor David Spiegelhalter, a leading statistician at the University of Cambridge, said one certain thing is that all the official death numbers are “substantial underestimates” of those dying directly from the virus and those who died as a result of the epidemic and the measures taken in response.

“I think we can safely say that none of these countries are doing well, but this is not (the) Eurovision (Song Contest) and it is pointless to try and rank them,” he said. “I believe the only sensible comparison is by looking at excess all-cause mortality, adjusted for the age distribution of the country,” he said. “And even then it will be very difficult to ascribe the reasons for any differences.”

Regardless of how deaths are recorded, the trends in most of the virus-related numbers in the U.K., such as the number of people requiring hospitalization with coronavirus, are heading in the right direction — but not enough to prompt the government to ease the lockdown, in place since March 23, when it is reviewed on Thursday.

Government advisers have voiced worries about the number of new cases still being recorded. Prime Minister Boris Johnson, who has recovered from COVID-19 himself, has warned of a second spike in the epidemic and that the U.K. is at the moment of “maximum risk.”

The government has come under increasing criticism over the past couple of weeks for being too slow in putting the country into lockdown, in testing for the virus and in getting critical protective gear for medical workers.

The hope in government circles is that it can pivot to a new approach in keeping a lid on the virus until a vaccine is found — more than 100,000 people can be tested each day. A pilot program started Tuesday on the Isle of Wight, off England’s south coast, with a mobile phone app that authorities hope will help contain the outbreak once the lockdown restrictions are eased. The government wants the app, which warns people who have been near an infected individual, to be rolled out across the country this month.

Angela McLean, the government’s deputy chief scientific adviser, said the U.K. was now trying to emulate the success of the contact tracing policy adopted by South Korea. “I think they are a fine example to us and we should try to emulate what they have achieved,” she said.

Misery of Italy’s migrants grows not from virus but lockdown

May 02, 2020

CASTEL VOLTURNO, Italy (AP) — They are known as “the invisibles”: Undocumented African migrants who, even before the coronavirus outbreak plunged Italy into crisis, barely scraped by as day laborers, prostitutes, freelance hairdressers and seasonal farm hands.

Locked down for two months in crumbling apartments in a mob-infiltrated town north of Naples, their hand-to-mouth existence has grown even more precarious with no work, no food and no hope. Italy is preparing to reopen some business and industry on Monday in a preliminary easing of its virus shutdown. But there is no indication that “the invisibles” of Castel Volturno will get back to work anytime soon, and no evidence that the government’s social nets will ease their misery.

“I need help. Help me. For my children, for my husband, I need help,” said a tearful Mary Sado Ofori, a Nigerian hairdresser and mother of three who has been holed up in her overcrowded apartment block. She ran out of milk for her 6-month old, and is getting by on handouts from a friend.

A patchwork team of a volunteers, medics, a priest, a cultural mediator and local city hall officials are trying to make sure “the invisibles” aren’t forgotten entirely, delivering groceries daily to their choked apartments and trying to provide health care. But the need is outstripping the resources.

“There is an emergency within the COVID emergency which is a social emergency,” said Sergio Serraiano, who runs a health clinic in town. “We knew this was going to happen, and we were waiting for it from the beginning.”

The virus struck hardest in Italy’s prosperous industrial north, where the first homegrown case was registered Feb. 21 and where most of the infected and 27,000 dead were recorded. The bulk of the government’s attention and response focused on reinforcing the health care system there to withstand the onslaught of tens of thousands of sick.

Castel Volturno is another world entirely, a 27-kilometer (17-mile) strip of land running along the sea north of Naples that is controlled by the Camorra organized crime syndicate. Here there have only been about a dozen COVID cases, and none among the migrants.

But Castel Volturno has other problems that the COVID crisis has exacerbated. Known as the “Terra dei Fuochi” or land of fires, Castel Volturno and surrounding areas have unusually high cancer rates, blamed on the illegal dumping and burning of toxic waste that have polluted the air, sea and underground wells.

Here the mob runs drugs and waste disposal, and officials have warned the clans are primed to exploit the economic misery that the virus shutdowns have caused. It is also here that “the invisibles” have settled over the years, many after crossing the Mediterranean from Libya in smugglers boats hoping for a better life. No one knows their numbers for certain, but estimates run as high as 600,000 nationally. In Castel Volturno, a city with an official population of around 26,000, there are estimates of 10,000 to 20,000.

The men get by on day jobs picking tomatoes, lemons or oranges, or in construction where they earn 25 euros (US$28) a day. The woman sell their bodies, or if they are lucky, work as freelance hairstylists or selling trinkets and cigarette lighters on the street.

In normal times, the men gather at 4 a.m. at the roundabouts that dot the Via Domiziana main drag, waiting for trucks to pick them up and take them to farms or construction sites. But since the lockdown, even that illegal off-the-books system known as “caporalato” has ground to a halt.

The migrants, who already were living precariously without official residency or work permits, now can’t pay their rent or buy food. “We don’t have electricity. We don’t have water. We don’t have documents,” said Jimmy Donko, a 43-year-old Ghanaian migrant who lives with 46 Nigerian and Ghanaian men in a dark, rundown house where filthy dishes fill the kitchen sink and old blankets serve as curtains over broken windows.

To bathe, wash and flush the toilet, he and his housemates walk 300 meters (yards) with buckets to a fountain and back. The level of desperation is apparent everywhere: With no electricity or refrigeration, food spoils quickly and is cooked immediately. On a recent day, cooked fish and goat heads were left out on shelves. Outside, chicken was being cooked on a makeshift stove made from old mattress springs.

A consortium of unions and nonprofit organizations has called for a general amnesty to legalize undocumented migrants. Government ministers have vowed to help even those in the black-market economy survive the emergency. A proposed law would legalize migrant farm workers for the strawberry, peach and melon harvests, given that Italy’s legal seasonal farm hands have been kept at home in Eastern Europe because of virus travel restrictions.

But no proposals have made it into law, and there is fierce opposition nationwide and in tiny Castel Volturno to any moves to legalize the African workforce currently here. “We are talking about 20,000 illegal migrants in a population of 26,000 inhabitants – that makes it almost equal one foreigner for one Italian,” said Mayor Luigi Petrella, of the right-wing, anti-migrant Brothers of Italy party. “It seems absurd to propose something like that.”

That said, city hall is working to feed the masses, teaming up with the local Centro Fernandes refugee center to bring bags of food each day to the locked-down, out-of-work migrants. The Rev. Daniele Moschetti, a former missionary in Nairobi, Kenya, now delivers groceries to the poor in his homeland.

“It was different when I was in Nairobi,” he said, during a break in his grocery rounds. “There was poverty, but it was more human. Here there is something diabolical about all this, something evil in how all these people are treated.”

Nicole Winfield contributed from Rome.

Naples’ beloved pizza is back after virus shutdown eases

April 28, 2020

NAPLES, Italy (AP) — Wood is burning again in Naples’ pizza ovens, giving a symbolic and savory boost to Neapolitans after two months of lockdown meant an end to their most iconic and favorite food. Pizzerias reopened Monday night in the birthplace of pizza, albeit under restrictions and for home delivery only.

Whereas pizzerias in Rome and elsewhere were allowed to operate for take-out and delivery service, they were banned in Naples out of fears that such a congested, high-density city could fast become a new hot spot for COVID-19 infections.

Campania’s governor, Vincenzo De Luca, enforced strict lockdown measures, knowing that the region’s hospitals couldn’t handle a major influx of sick. In the end, Campania had a relatively manageable outbreak of about 4,300 people infected, half of whom didn’t need to be hospitalized.

With Italy as whole gradually reopening, De Luca lifted bans on pizza deliveries as well as home deliveries from bars, pastry shops and ice-cream parlors and restaurants. “Surely this is a little restart for the entrepreneurs, important for us and for our region, our city and our nation,” said Giovanni Pezzuto, owner of a Neapolitan pizzeria. “This is a symbol of hope for the little firm that slowly can restart.”

It’s not a total reopening, however. Clients can only place orders by phone — not in person — and all business must close at 10 p.m. The pizzerias have to be cleaned regularly and workers must wear gloves and masks.

Vincenzo Capuano, owner of pizzeria Capuano, said even the partial reopening will help Campania’s economy because all his ingredients are sourced locally. “To make pizza I have to buy the local flour from Naples, (local) San Marzano tomatoes, I have to buy the potatoes, the onions,” he said.

Without this support to the local economy, “after the health crisis we could have a much worse economic crisis.” Italy was the first country in the West to be slammed by the outbreak, and its death toll is the highest in Europe and second only to the U.S., which has more than five times the population. Italy’s epicenter, however, was based in the north and officials say the south was largely spared because the government locked down the whole country in time.

Nationwide, bars and restaurants are expected to be allowed to reopen in June for in-house service, but only with strict social-distancing and sanitation measures in place.

Nicole Winfield contributed to this report from Rome.

Italy begins to grapple with how to ease virus restrictions

April 11, 2020

SOAVE, Italy (AP) — With warmer weather beckoning, Italians are straining against a strict lockdown to halt the coronavirus that is just now showing signs of ebbing at the end of five weeks of mass isolation.

Italy was the first Western democracy to be hit by the virus, and it has suffered the most deaths of any nation: nearly 19,000. Now it is likely to set an example of how to lift broad restrictions that have imposed the harshest peacetime limits on personal freedom and shut down all nonessential industry.

Right now, schools are closed and children are not permitted to play in parks. Walks outdoors are limited to a distance of 200 meters (yards) and any excursion not strictly a matter of necessity risks hefty fines.

The official line is patience with measures that have shown success in slowing the virus spread, until there is a clear decline in the number of new cases. Still, officials have begun grappling with the question of how to manage social distancing on mass transit, re-open ordinary commerce and relaunch manufacturing without risking another peak.

The so-called Phase II is being described as a cautious reopening, as society continues to live alongside the virus until a vaccine can be developed, perhaps in 12 to 18 months. ‘’We obviously don’t want to delude ourselves that everything will change,’’ Premier Giuseppe Conte told Italians this week.

On Friday, Conte extended the nationwide lockdown through May 3. That includes all nonessential industry, after which, ‘’I hope we can start again with caution and gradually — but restart,” he said. A technical committee advising the government is working to expand testing for COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus. to get a better picture of how widespread it is in Italy before measures can be eased. Preparations are also underway to launch a mobile app that will allow people to know if they have been near anyone who is positive, something that is expected to take at least a month.

‘’With this you can allow people to have more freedom of movement,’’ said Walter Ricciardi, a public health expert and member of the World Health Organization board advising the Italian government. The technology for the app already exists but authorities were working on technical details on how to deploy it.

Experts in Italy are coordinating with their European partners so the tracking can be applied across borders, which have been de facto closed by the virus. The goal is to establish a common technology, which could help in re-establishing freedom of movement between EU nations.

Using the app would be voluntary for anyone wanting to know whether they have come into contact with an infected person that they would have no other way of identifying. Any contacts would be tested, and if positive treated, according to the WHO initiative: trace, test and treat.

Advocates insist that anonymity would be protected and that no personal data would be at risk, likening the app to other widely used applications like Google Maps or TripAdvisor, which help users identify specific data.

Italy’s hardest hit regions in the north are also floating proposals for immunity certificates based on antibody blood tests, which have not yet proved reliable. Virus experts caution that such documents are a long way off.

‘’The blood test only tells us if the person has been in contact with the virus,’’ not if the subject is actually immune, said Andrea Crisanti, an expert at the University of Padova who is helping to coordinate the coronavirus response in the northeastern region of Veneto. Significantly, he said, the tests also don’t show whether antibodies are active, their quantity or how long they might last.

‘’On a social level, the blood test would allow us to understand to what extent the virus has spread in various sectors of the population and geographical areas, where we could then test to see if the virus is active,’’ Crisanti said. ‘’We are a very long way from immunity passports.’’

Some regions already require facial masks, though not necessarily surgical-grade ones, which remain in short supply. Lombardy, which has born the brunt of the epidemic, has made masks mandatory for anyone venturing outside their home — but due to the continuing shortage, scarves can be used. Veneto has distributed a basic mask to most households, requiring them to be used in supermarkets and on public transportation.

The mayor of Milan, Europe’s first major metropolis to close because of the virus, is telling citizens that any re-opening could be ‘’stop-and-go,” and is discussing strategies with other European mayors.

Giuseppe Sala said Milan officials are studying how to guarantee social distancing when more people begin to access public spaces, from public transportation to cinemas. Sala is considering having younger city employees return to work first, since they have generally proven less susceptible to the virus. Remote working, where possible, will continue to be encouraged.

‘’Until we have a vaccine, it will be an anomalous situation,’’ Sala said. Public health officials warn that the easing phase could prove to be the most dangerous. ‘’The fact of pandemics is that they move in waves, and normally the second wave is more dangerous than the first, because the guard has been lowered, you think you can return to normal and a heavier blow arrives,’’ said Ricciardi, the Italian government liaison to WHO. ‘’We need to be careful and not make vain all of the sacrifices that have already been made. ‘’

The good news is that Italians’ beloved summer holidays don’t appear to be ruled out. ‘’It will be a summer during which we will have to maintain social distance, avoid gatherings and limit movements. There will not be a lot of facility to travel by airplane or train, where it is difficult to maintain a secure distance,” Ricciardi said.

‘’We need to think of making vacation plans that are more prudent.”

Tag Cloud