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The port of Civitavecchia, located about 50 miles from Rome, would ordinarily be bustling with cruise passengers. Today, the most salient feature is a Covid-19 drive-through centre, where people travelling by ferry to or from the island of Sardinia and Spain can voluntarily be tested for the virus.
The facility was quickly established after a surge in cases in the Lazio region, which have mostly been linked to young people who holidayed on Sardinia’s Costa Smeralda, a stretch of coastline in the north-east of the island to where the wealthy gravitate.
Medical staff work in shifts, with tests carried out on passengers disembarking ferries in the morning and on those leaving in the afternoon. Results are known in half an hour.
“In the morning we get about 900 people,” a staff member said. “There are less in the afternoon as fewer people are leaving.”
Of the 960 tests carried out on those arriving on Wednesday, six were positive.
Almost 800 cases in Lazio in recent weeks have been traced to the Costa Smeralda. Such is the concern that Alessio D’Amato, Lazio’s health councillor, has compared the spread of infection to February’s Champions League match between Atalanta and Valencia in Milan, which is believed to have contributed to the start of Italy’s pandemic.
“We have had a significant number within a very short period of time, this is why I made the comparison with the football match,” D’Amato told the Guardian.
D’Amato said a third of Lazio’s daily rise in cases can be connected to those who were in Costa Smeralda, where several clusters have been traced to nightclubs, including Billionaire, owned by Flavio Briatore, the former Formula One team boss who was confirmed to have tested positive for coronavirus in late August.
The average age of those testing positive is 25. “Evidently there was a phenomenon of gatherings, in bars and nightclubs, with few controls, which then provoked a wave that we are identifying through testing, mainly in Civitavecchia, but also at other drive-ins,” added D’Amato.
Sardinia holidaymakers have also brought the virus home to other Italian regions including Campania, Puglia, Emilia-Romagna, Veneto and Lombardy.
Now, amid a rise in cancelled trips to Sardinia, the regional governor, Christian Solinas, has pledged to take legal action against the media for its depiction of the island, which was relatively Covid-free at the end of July, as Italy’s new epicentre.
The coverage was amplified on Wednesday when Italy’s former prime minister Silvio Berlusconi was confirmed to have coronavirus shortly after returning from his villa on the Costa Smeralda. He was hospitalised in Milan on Thursday night. Berlusconi was pictured socialising with Briatore, both without face masks, during his stay on the island. Sixty-one coronavirus cases have been traced to Briatore’s nightclub.
Solinas had initially called for visitors this summer to carry “health passports” confirming they didn’t have the virus but the idea didn’t come to pass. Since the start of Italy’s pandemic in February, over 2,400 cases have been registered locally – among the lowest figures in Italy. On Friday, there were 66 new infections.
“In August, with the arrival of a significant number of tourists, some people brought the virus and contagion to Sardinia,” Solinas said. “But while in France and Spain there was a rate of 5,000 infections a day and in Italy about 1,400, in Sardinia there were 50 or 70 cases [daily]. There are also very few hospitalisations … the mass media has instead portrayed Sardinia as the epicentre for the pandemic’s new wave. It’s a shameful exploitation.”
Solinas said he also didn’t understand why Billionaire’s 61 cases attracted more attention than a nightclub in Cervia, along the Adriatic coast in Emilia-Romagna, where there were 133 cases.
“These unjustified fears have led to many holiday cancellations,” he added. “But Sardinia is welcoming and safe for tourists, and has managed the emergency in an orderly and timely matter.”
Paolo Manca, the president of the Sardinia unit of Federalberghi, Italy’s hotel association, said hotels had suffered cancellations for September and October.
“The cases were really limited to the nightclubs, all the hotels carried out tests and there were practically no cases,” he said. “If you’re among a group of young people staying in a villa and you go to clubs and restaurants without wearing masks or caring about distancing rules, the problem isn’t Sardinia but your attitude.”
Sergio Babudieri, director of the infectious diseases unit at AOU Sassari, a hospital in Sardinia’s second-largest city, said most of the cases filling the emergency room were people who had been in the north-east of the island. However, there were also some from central Sardinia, where 60 cases had been detected in a town with a population of 600.
There are five patients in intensive care in Sassari. A 77-year-old man, who was suffering from other illnesses alongside Covid-19, died this week.
“We had a man aged 27 who had serious pneumonia and he risked going into intensive care, but he improved, thank goodness.” said Babudieri. “This proves that young people do not escape the severity of this virus.”
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: How Sardinia went from safe haven to Covid-19 hotspot | Italy