Why is Italy Seeing Fewer COVID Cases Than Its Neighbors?

Coronavirus cases are surging across most of Europe. France, Spain and Britain are seeing precipitous increases. But some countries, notably Italy and Germany, have yet to see a second wave of the pandemic, although their numbers are also rising, but far less steeply.In the past two weeks, Italy recorded slightly fewer than 35 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants, compared to nearly 315 in Spain, around 200 in France, and 76.5 in Britain, where the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus is now almost three times as many as at the end of August, according to British government data.Italy was the first European nation to be struck by the coronavirus pandemic and suffered one of the world’s worst death tolls earlier this year. But the rolling average of new cases in Italy the past week has remained at just under 1,500 infections a day. In Britain, it is nearly 4,000 a day, and more than 10,000 in both France and Spain.For British Prime Minister Boris Johnson, the reason for Britain’s big surge in infections is because it is a “freedom-loving country.” Britons are less inclined to follow government-dictated rules voluntarily, he noted this week. But he is now urging them to do so, with the added incentive of tough fines if they fail to comply.Johnson’s comments that the British are more liberty-loving than Italians or Germans prompted outrage in Italy.“Italians also love freedom. But we also care about seriousness,” Italian President Sergio Mattarella said.But many public health officials and infectious disease experts say there is, in fact, little evidence that Italians or Germans have been any better at voluntarily observing mask-wearing rules than the British, French or Spanish, especially when it comes to the young.Disdain for pandemic rules was evident among young Italians this summer. In Lazio villages and towns surrounding Rome, and further afield in Umbria and Marche, traditional piazza gatherings outside bars for an evening aperitivo were full of young people with masks pulled down, despite their close proximity to each other, VOA found on several trips over the past three months.“The clock stopped for us for months,” Paolo, 25, an unemployed college graduate, told VOA. “No longer,” he added, downing a beer in a village square in Sutri, half an hour’s drive from Rome.In northern Lazio in August, frustrated town mayors and the provincial president of Viterbo issued a joint statement urging citizens to obey the rules, warning that police had been instructed to enforce mask-wearing and social-distancing regulations.“There is no evidence that individual and social behaviors like the use of masks, social distancing or no gatherings have been better in Italy than elsewhere,” Dr. Nino Cartabellotta, a leading public health expert, told digital news website The Local this week.Other experts disagree and maintain voluntary compliance has been higher in Italy than many other European countries, especially in large cities in the north of the country, which were especially hard-hit by the pandemic earlier in the year.Either way, Italian police are ready to enforce the rules more rigorously than their counterparts in Britain, who have been reluctant to do so on grounds that they do not have the workforce.On Monday, Italy’s Interior Ministry announced that police had carried out more than 50,000 checks nationwide on people to ensure they were observing rules and visited nearly 5,000 businesses to ensure compliance with pandemic protocols.More than 200 people were fined by police for non-compliance. Three companies were ordered to shut.Early lockdown, states of emergencyAside from more rigorous police enforcement, many infectious disease experts suspect Italy is seeing a slower uptick in cases largely because it is reaping the benefits of ordering a nationwide lockdown earlier than other European countries, and because the government has reopened far more gradually and cautiously than its neighbors.Many restrictions are still in place or are reintroduced quickly when case numbers warrant. Italian authorities closed schools much quicker than other European countries earlier in the year, and they have been much slower in reopening them.In mid-August as confirmed case numbers climbed, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte moved quickly to shutter bars and nightclubs.Italy’s central government has been able to move quicker than some other European governments when pandemic circumstances warrant it, largely due to state-of-emergency powers that allow Conte to rule by decree. The government secured parliamentary approval for a six-month state of emergency on January 31, when the first two cases of coronavirus were confirmed in Rome.In July, the state of emergency was extended to the end of October, and Conte has made it clear he is ready to ask Parliament for another extension of special powers, which make it easier for ministers and regional governors to declare red zones, close businesses and direct more resources to hospitals.Emergency powers allowed the government to move quickly last month to require Italian vacationers returning from viral hot spots overseas to undergo coronavirus tests on arrival at airports and seaports or within 72 hours after arriving at their homes.Contact tracingExperts also credit the slower uptick in case numbers in Italy to better contact tracing and ensuring that self-isolation requirements are observed.Italy is testing about 100,000 people a day, far fewer than Britain, which is testing around 250 million daily. But Italian authorities have been more effective in tracing the contacts of those infected, said Italy’s deputy health minister, Pierpaolo Sileri. He credits Italy’s testing and tracing system in helping to avoid the dramatic resurgence of the virus seen elsewhere in Europe.Italian government officials say more than two-thirds of Italians who tested positive for the coronavirus in the past few weeks took tests not because they had symptoms but because they were identified through contact tracing.Track and trace in Italy is the responsibility of local and regional health authorities — a far more decentralized approach than that adopted in Britain, whose centralized system has struggled to trace the contacts of those infected.According to Bing Jones, a doctor in the English town of Sheffield who is involved in test and tracing, few contacts are identified.“We probably are at less than 10% and falling,” he told Britain’s Independent newspaper.Germany’s test-and-trace method is also managed at local and regional levels and being credited with helping to keep a viral resurgence at bay. According to a recent study of Britain’s Imperial College, an effective testing and tracing system can reduce the reproduction rate of the virus by around a quarter.Italian and German public health officials warn that their countries are unlikely to escape a second wave of the pandemic. They just hope they can do a good job subduing it more quickly. 

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British Bars, Restaurants Close Early to Curb Virus Surge

Last call came early Thursday at pubs and bars in England and Wales, as Britain tightened the rules to try to curb a coronavirus surge.The new restrictions, announced Tuesday by Prime Minister Boris Johnson, mean that any establishment serving food or drink must close by 10 p.m. (2100 GMT).The new rules apply in Scotland from Friday, while Northern Ireland is still considering a curfew.British pubs traditionally close at 11 p.m. But some stay open later, depending on their location and the day.”I don’t think it’s gonna help, it’s too little too late, as usual,” Joyce, a skeptical drinker in her 50s at a pub in the East London neighborhood of Dalston, told AFP.”You’re just displacing the problem,” she said.Britain announced 6,634 new cases Thursday, the biggest daily number since the pandemic began. Britain is performing about 220,000 tests a day.Across the English Chanel, European Union health officials urged member states Thursday to “act decisively” to put in place and utilize measures to stop the spread of the coronavirus and a potential surge in cases like the one earlier this year that prompted widespread lockdowns.“We are at a decisive moment. All member states must be ready to roll out control measures, immediately and at the right time, at the very first sign of potential new outbreaks,” said Stella Kyriakides, commissioner for health and food safety. She added, “This might be our last chance to prevent a repeat of last spring.”More than 3 million cases have been reported across the EU and Britain since the pandemic began, according to the European Center for Disease Prevention and Control.Kyriakides noted some EU countries are experiencing higher numbers of new infections than they had in March at the peak of the outbreak in the region, saying, “It is abundantly clear that this crisis is not behind us.”France’s health ministry reported Thursday the number of people hospitalized in intensive care units due to the coronavirus surpassed 1,000 for the first time since early June.In the Netherlands, health officials said Thursday the number of new infections rose to 2,544, a record high for a single day.Poland’s health ministry also reported a record daily rise in cases and attributed the trend to people making more contact with others after restrictions were lifted.Sweden, which opted not to put in place many of the stricter coronavirus lockdown measures seen elsewhere in Europe, is experiencing a situation Prime Minister Stefan Lofven called worrying.”The caution that existed in the spring has more and more been replaced by hugs, parties, bus trips in rush hour traffic, and an everyday life that, for many, seems to return to normal,” Lofven told reporters.He said people will be glad about the right steps they take now and suffer later for what is done wrong.Lofven urged people to follow social distancing guidelines and hygiene measures, and said, if necessary, the government would introduce new measures to stop the spread of the virus.A similar message about the need for continued vigilance and good practices came Thursday from Indonesia’s COVID-19 task force as that country saw another record increase in new cases. COVID-19 is the illness caused by the coronavirus.”Over time, we’ve seen that the people have lowered their guards,” task force spokesman Wiku Adisasmito told reporters. “It’s almost like they don’t have empathy even when they see every day so many new victims.”The governor of the capital, Jakarta, extended coronavirus restrictions there until October 11 in order to help hospitals cope with demand.In Israel, Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu announced Thursday that the country is returning to a full lockdown, effective Friday, and lasting for two weeks as its infection rate spirals out of control.Schools, entertainment venues and most businesses will be closed, while restaurants will be limited to delivering food. Residents will be required to stay within 500 to 1,000 meters of their homes, except for work and shopping for food and medicine, while outdoor gatherings will be strictly limited to 20 people. 

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US-China-Russia Rift Simmers at UN

The growing rift between the United States and China and Russia was clearly evident on the sidelines of the U.N. General Assembly Thursday, threatening to overshadow international cooperation on the coronavirus response.This year’s assembly has been held online because of the pandemic, and its focus has been on confronting COVID-19, the disease caused by the virus, through effective multilateral action.At a side event in the Security Council meant to complement that theme, U.N. Secretary-General Antonio Guterres expressed concern that the pandemic is unfolding against a backdrop of “high geopolitical tensions.”“The pandemic is a clear test of international cooperation, a test we have essentially failed,” Guterres told the videoconference of the U.N.’s most powerful body. Those tensions were on display in the council, as the foreign ministers of China and Russia referenced their divisions with the United States.Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi is seen on a computer monitor at U.N. headquarters as he speaks during a virtual Security Council meeting during the 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2020.“In such a challenging moment, major countries are even more duty-bound to put the future of humankind first, discard Cold War mentality and ideological bias, and come together in the spirit of partnership to tide over the difficulties,” said Chinese Foreign Minister Wang Yi.His Russian counterpart said differences between some nations have been reignited and heightened by the impact of the virus.Russian Foreign Minister Sergey Lavrov is seen on a computer monitor at U.N. headquarters as he speaks during the 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2020.“A number of countries are increasingly tempted to look abroad to find those who are responsible for their problems at home,” Sergey Lavrov said. “There are obvious attempts by individual states to use the current situation to promote self-serving and fleeting interests and to settle scores with unwanted governments or geopolitical rivals.”Some U.S. allies were also seemingly critical of the United States and the Trump administration.Potential for cooperation“We need to refocus on the positive potential of cooperation instead of on putting our own countries first,” said German State Minister Niels Annen. “If one of us fails, all of us fail.”U.S. Ambassador Kelly Craft was blunt in return, telling the entire council, “Shame on each of you” for focusing on “political grudges.” She zeroed in on China and reiterated President Donald Trump’s strong stance that Beijing should be held accountable as the source of the pandemic.U.S. Ambassador to the United Nations Kelly Craft is seen on a computer monitor at U.N. headquarters as she speaks during the 75th session of the U.N. General Assembly, Sept. 24, 2020.“The actions of the Chinese Communist Party prove that not all member states are equally committed to public health, transparency and their international obligations,” she said. “This fact should deeply trouble all of the responsible nations of the world who are working in good faith to defeat COVID-19 and keep future pandemics from emerging.”China’s U.N. Ambassador Zhang Jun fired back, telling Craft, “Enough is enough.” Acknowledging that his country was the first “to be hit” by the virus, he said it had made a great contribution to the global response.He noted the U.S. has nearly 7 million of the world’s almost 32 million confirmed virus cases, and 200,000 deaths.“The U.S. should understand that its failure in handling COVID-19 is totally its own fault,” Zhang said.Rising tensions between Washington and Beijing have been evident this week, in both the speeches of their leaders to the General Assembly and on the sidelines.China targeted on virusOn Tuesday, Trump told the assembly that Beijing should be “held accountable” for having a domestic lockdown in the earliest days of the virus but allowing air travel from China to continue “and infect the world.”U.S. Secretary of State Mike Pompeo also took aim at China this week, saying the administration is in the process of determining how to label Beijing’s repression of Uighur Muslims — as “crimes against humanity” or “genocide.” Such terms carry enormous weight in international law and relations.In remarks directed at Washington, China’s President Xi Jinping denounced efforts to politicize or stigmatize the virus.

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Sweden Keeps Ban on Large Gatherings as COVID-19 Cases Rise

Sweden’s prime minister said Thursday that he would keep a ban on large gatherings after the nation recorded its largest spike in new daily COVID-19 cases since July.Sweden’s approach to the pandemic has been controversial in that it never implemented a mandatory national lockdown. Instead, it called for personal responsibility, social distancing, masks and good hygiene to slow, rather than eradicate, the virus.The results have been mixed. Sweden’s COVID-19 caseload has been much lower than those of many other European countries, with 90,289. But its number of deaths — 5,878 as of Thursday — is significantly higher than those of its Nordic neighbors Finland and Norway, but low compared with figures from countries like Spain, Italy or Britain.Sweden has recorded a gradual rise in new COVID-19 infections in recent weeks, and 533 new cases were reported Thursday, the highest daily number since early July.FILE – Sweden’s Prime Minister Stefan Lofven leaves the European Council building at the end of an EU summit in Brussels, July 21, 2020.Too relaxedAt a news briefing Thursday, Prime Minister Stefan Lofven said Swedes had become too relaxed about heeding anti-COVID-19 guidelines, and while they plan to lift a ban on visits to elder care homes, he said the government would not hesitate to implement further restrictions if new cases continued to rise.Lofven blamed the recent spike in cases on people letting their guard down. He said, “The caution that existed in the spring has more and more been replaced by hugs, parties,” and for many, an attempt to return to “normal life.”At a separate news conference Thursday, Sweden’s state epidemiologist, Anders Tegnell, told reporters he believed the country has not seen the rapid spread and resurgence of the virus that other European countries have seen because the restrictions it did implement were left in place. Other countries, like Spain, locked down completely, then reopened.Tegnell said it was also possible Sweden could experience the same type of surge in a few weeks.

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Helsinki: Coronavirus-sniffing Dogs Could Provide Safer Travel

Helsinki Airport is getting creative when it comes to operating safely in the age of COVID-19. Beginning this week, travelers arriving at Finland’s busiest international airport will have the opportunity to take a voluntary coronavirus test that takes 10 seconds and is entirely painless — but it’s not the test that is unusual, rather, it’s who is conducting it.The new state-funded pilot program uses coronavirus-sniffing canines to detect the presence of the virus within 10 seconds with shocking accuracy. Preliminary results from the trial show that the dogs, who have been used previously to detect illnesses such as cancer and malaria, were able to identify the virus with nearly 100% accuracy.FILE – Sniffer dog Miina, being trained to detect the coronavirus from the arriving passengers’ samples, works in Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, Sept. 15, 2020.Many of the dogs were able to detect the coronavirus long before a patient developed symptoms, something even laboratory tests fail to do.After passengers arrive at Helsinki from abroad and have collected their luggage, they are invited to wipe their necks with a cloth to collect sweat samples that are then placed into an intake box. In a separate booth, a dog handler places the box alongside several cans containing various scents and the canine goes to work.Researchers have yet to identify what it is exactly the dogs sniff when they detect the virus, but a preliminary study published in June found there was “very high evidence” that the sweat odors of a COVID-19-positive person were different from those who do not have the virus. This is key, as dogs are able to detect the difference thanks to their sharp sense of smell.If the dog flags the sample as positive, the passenger is directed to the airport’s health center for a free PCR virus test.While there have been instances that an animal contracts the coronavirus, dogs do not seem to be easily infected. There is no evidence that dogs can pass the virus on to people or other animals.Sniffer dogs Valo, left, and E.T., who are trained to detect the coronavirus disease from the arriving passengers’ samples, sit next to their trainers at Helsinki Airport in Vantaa, Finland, Sept. 22, 2020.Scientists in other countries, such as France, Germany and Britain, are engaging in similar research, but Finland is the first country in Europe to put dogs to work to sniff out the coronavirus.Finnish researchers say that if the pilot program proves to be effective, dogs could be used to quickly and efficiently screen visitors in spaces such as retirement homes or hospitals to help avoid unnecessary quarantines for health care workers.Representatives from the University of Helsinki, who are conducting the trial, said Finland would need between 700 and 1,000 specially trained coronavirus-sniffing dogs in order to cover schools, malls and retirement homes. For broader coverage, even more trained animals— and their trainers— would be required.  
 

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Sir Harold Evans, Crusading Publisher and Author, Dies at 92

Sir Harold Evans, the charismatic publisher, author and muckraker who was a bold-faced name for decades for exposing wrongdoing in 1960s London to publishing such 1990s best-sellers as “Primary Colors,” has died, his wife said Thursday. He was 92.
His wife, fellow author-publisher Tina Brown, said he died Wednesday in New York of congestive heart failure.  
A vision of British erudition and sass, Evans was a high-profile go-getter, starting in the 1960s as an editor of the Northern Echo and the Sunday Times of London and continuing into the 1990s as president of Random House. Married since 1981 to Brown, their union was a paradigm of media clout and A-list access.  
A defender of literature and print journalism well into the digital age, Evans was one of the all-time newspaper editors, startling British society with revelations of espionage, corporate wrongdoing and government scandal. In the U.S., he published such attention-getters as the mysterious political novel “Primary Colors” and memoirs by such unlikely authors as Manuel Noriega and Marlon Brando.  
He was knighted by his native Britain in 2004 for his contributions to journalism.  
He held his own, and more, with the world’s elite, but was mindful of his working class background: a locomotive driver’s son, born in Lancashire, English, on June 28, 1928. As a teen, he was evacuated to Wales during World War II. After serving in the Royal Air Force, he studied politics and economics at Durham University and received a master’s in foreign policy.
His drive to report and expose dated back to his teens, when he discovered that newspapers had wildly romanticized the Battle of Dunkirk between German and British soldiers.
 “A newspaper is an argument on the way to a deadline,” he once wrote. He was just 16 when he got his first journalism job, at a local newspaper in Lancashire, and after graduating from college he became an assistant editor at the Manchester Evening News. In his early 30s, he was hired to edit the Daily Echo and began attracting national attention with crusades such as government funding for cancer smear tests for women.
He had yet to turn 40 when he became editor of the Sunday Times, where he reigned and rebelled for 14 years until he was pushed out by a new boss, Rupert Murdoch. Notable stories included publishing the diaries of former Labour Minister Richard Crossman; taking on the manufacturers of the drug Thalidomide, which caused birth defects in children; and revealing that Britain’s Kim Philby was a Soviet spy.
“There have been many times when I have found that what was presented as truth did not square with what I discovered as a reporter, or later as an editor, learned from good shoe-leather reporters,” he observed in “My Paper Chase,” published in 2009. “We all understand in an age of terrorism that refraining from exposing a lie may be necessary for the protection of innocents. But ‘national interest’ is an elastic concept that if stretched can snap with a sting.”
Meanwhile, the then-married Evans became infatuated with an irreverent blonde just out of Oxford, Tina Brown, and soon began a long-distance correspondence — he in London, she in New York — that grew intimate enough for Evans to “fall in love by post.” They were married in East Hampton, New York, in 1981. The Washington Post’s Ben Bradlee was best man, Nora Ephron was among the guests.  
With Brown, Evans had two children, adding to the two children he had with his first wife.
Their garden apartment on Manhattan’s exclusive Sutton Place became a mini-media dynasty: He the champion of justice, rogues and belles lettres, she the award-winning provocateur and chronicler of the famous — as head of Tatler in England, then Vanity Fair and The New Yorker, and as author of a best-selling book about Princess Diana.
Evans emigrated to the U.S. in 1984, initially serving as editorial director of U.S. News & World Report, and was hired six years later by Random House. He published William Styron’s best-selling account of his near-suicidal depression, “Darkness Visible,” and winked at Washington with “Primary Colors,” a roman a clef about then-candidate Bill Clinton that was published anonymously and set off a capitol guessing game, ended when The Washington Post unmasked magazine correspondent Joe Klein.
Evans had a friendly synergist at The New Yorker, where Brown serialized works by Monica Crowley, Edward Jay Epstein and other Random House authors. A special beneficiary was Jeffrey Toobin, a court reporter for The New Yorker who received a Random House deal for a book on the O.J. Simpson trial that was duly excerpted in Brown’s magazine.  
Evans took on memoirs by the respected — Colin Powell — as well as the disgraced: Clinton advisor and alleged call girl client Dick Morris. He visited Noriega’s jail cell in pursuit of a memoir by the deposed Panamanian dictator. In 1994, he risked $40,000 for a book by a community organizer and law school graduate, a bargain for what became former President Barack Obama’s “Dreams from My Father.”
Evan’s more notable follies included a disparaged, Random House-generated list of the 100 greatest novels of the 20th century, for which judges acknowledged they had no ideal how the books were ranked, and Brando’s “Songs My Mother Taught Me.”  
As Evans recalled in “My Paper Chase,” he met with Brando in California, first for dinner at a restaurant where the ever-suspicious actor accused Evans of working for the CIA. Then they were back at Brando’s Beverly Hills mansion, where Brando advocated for Native Americans and intimated that he had sex with Jacqueline Kennedy at the White House.
After a follow-up meeting the next afternoon — they played chess, Brando recited Shakespeare — the actor signed on, wrote what Evans found a “highly readable” memoir. He then subverted it by kissing CNN’s Larry King on the lips, “stopping the book dead in its tracks,” Evans recalled.
Evans left Random House in 1997 to take over as editorial director and vice president of Morton B. Zuckerman’s many publications, including U.S. News & World Report and The Atlantic, but stepped down in 2000 to devote more time to speeches and books.  
More recently, he served as a contributing editor to U.S. News and editor at large for the magazine The Week. In 2011, he became an editor-at-large for Reuters. His guidebook for writers, “Do I Make Myself Clear?”, was published in 2017.
“I wrote the book because I thought I had to speak up for clarity,” he told The Daily Beast at the time. “When I go into a cafe in the morning for breakfast and I’m reading the paper, I’m editing. I can’t help it. I can’t stop. I still go through the paper and mark it up as I read. It’s a compulsion, actually.”

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