Novel coronavirus losing potency, top Italian doctor says

Head of a Milan hospital tells RAI TV that recent swab tests show less viral load compared with previous findings.

    Italy has the third-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, 33,415 people dying since the outbreak began in the country [Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP]
    Italy has the third-highest coronavirus death toll in the world, 33,415 people dying since the outbreak began in the country [Mauro Scrobogna/LaPresse via AP]

    The new coronavirus is losing its potency and has become much less lethal, a senior Italian doctor said on Sunday.

    "In reality, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy," said Alberto Zangrillo, head of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan in the northern region of Lombardy, which has borne the brunt of Italy's coronavirus outbreak.

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    "The swabs that were performed over the last 10 days showed a viral load in quantitative terms that was absolutely infinitesimal compared to the ones carried out a month or two months ago," he told RAI television.

    Italy has the third-highest death toll in the world fromCOVID-19,  the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, with 33,415 people dying since the outbreak came to light on February 21.

    It has the sixth-highest global number of cases at 233,019.

    However, new infections and fatalities have fallen steadily in May and the country is unwinding some of the most rigid lockdown restrictions introduced anywhere in Europe.

    Zangrillo said some experts were too alarmist about the prospect of a second wave of infections and politicians needed to take into account the new reality.

    "We've got to get back to being a normal country," he said. "Someone has to take responsibility for terrorising the country."

    The government urged caution, saying it was far too soon to claim victory.

    "Pending scientific evidence to support the thesis that the virus has disappeared...I would invite those who say they are sure of it not to confuse Italians," Sandra Zampa, an under-secretary at the health ministry, said in a statement.

    "We should instead invite Italians to maintain the maximum caution, maintain physical distancing, avoid large groups, to frequently wash their hands and to wear masks."

    A second doctor from northern Italy told the national ANSA news agency that he was also seeing the coronavirus weaken.

    "The strength the virus had two months ago is not the same strength it has today," said Matteo Bassetti, head of the infectious diseases clinic at the San Martino hospital in the city of Genoa.

    "It is clear that today the COVID-19 disease is different."

    SOURCE: Reuters news agency