Top scientists, health officials and the WHO rushed Monday to counter claims made by a prominent Italian doctor who said the new coronavirus “no longer exists” in the country.
The dispute came as Italy prepared for the next stage of its gradual relief from the national blockade imposed three months ago to combat the spread of the deadly virus.
“Actually, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy,” said Alberto Zangrillo, head of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan.
“Swabs made in the last 10 days have shown a viral load that is absolutely infinitesimal in quantitative terms compared to those made a month or two months ago,” he said in an interview on RAI television on Sunday.
“Someone has to take responsibility for terrorizing the country,” added Zangrillo.
Milan is the capital of the northern region of Lombardy, which received the worst part of the pandemic in Italy.
Several specialists, in Italy and abroad, quickly opposed Zangrillo’s comments.
Dr. Oscar MacLean of the MRC-University of Glasgow Virus Research Center said Zangrillo’s claims “were not supported by anything in the scientific literature, and they also seem quite implausible for genetic reasons.”
Martin Hibberd, professor at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, said: “In a situation where the number of severe cases is decreasing, there may be time to start observing people with less severe symptoms, giving the impression of that the virus is changing. “
‘Still a killer virus’: WHO
And the World Health Organization also emphasized that the new coronavirus had suddenly not become less pathogenic.
“We have to be careful: this is still a deadly virus,” WHO Director of Emergencies Michael Ryan told reporters.
“We must be exceptionally careful not to create the feeling that the virus has suddenly, of its own volition, now decided to be less pathogenic,” said Ryan, who has experience in epidemiology.
“It is not the case at all.”
The head of the Italian National Health Council, Franco Locatelli, said he was “puzzled” by Zangrillo’s comments.
“It is enough to look at the number of new confirmed positive cases every day to see the persistent circulation in Italy of the new coronavirus,” he said.
The director of the prestigious Spallazani infectious disease institute in Rome, Giuseppe Ippolito, also said there was no scientific evidence that the virus had mutated or changed in potency.
The government has insisted that this is one of the most dangerous phases of a pandemic that has claimed more than 33,000 lives in the country.
It has urged people to abide by the rules of social distancing and to wear masks to prevent the virus from spreading once again.
A contact tracking application was launched on Monday to help the country avoid a relapse of the virus in four of the country’s 20 regions, and others will be launched soon.
As part of the country’s next reopening stage, starting Wednesday, foreign tourists will be able to re-enter Italy and people will be able to move between regions.
(Except for the headline, this story has not been edited by NDTV staff and is posted from a syndicated channel.)