A small town in northern Italy has reportedly stopped all new coronavirus infections as part of a successful experiment.
Vò, near Venice, was one of the 11 towns and villages at the centre of the country’s COVID-19 outbreak and began the trial at the start of the pandemic in Europe.
The experiment involved blanket testing of the town’s entire population of 3,300 people and the imposition of very strict quarantine on those infected and their contacts.
Italian news reports suggest the town has not registered new cases since Friday.
“Testing was vital, it has saved many lives,” mayor Giuliano Martini was quoted by the country’s media.
Andrea Crisanti, an infections expert at Imperial College London, who has been involved in the village’s efforts to combat the virus told Italy’s broadcast media that continuous testing and retesting of the whole population made the difference.
Professor Crisanti said: “In Vo Euganeo we tested all the inhabitants, even those who were asymptomatic.
“All citizens were put in isolation, so they could not transmit the disease.
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“On the second testing that was carried out, we recorded a 90% drop in the rate of positive cases. And of all the ones who were positive in the second testing, eight people were asymptomatic.
Professor Crisanti warned that that for every patient that shows symptoms for COVID-19 there were about 10 who don’t.
“It is clear that you cannot test all Italians – but you can test people close to those who are asymptomatic. We must use asymptomatic cases as an alarm bell to widen our action,” he said.
Italy has so far reported more than 2,500 deaths and nearly 28,000 confirmed cases a higher number than even China was reporting at the peak of the outbreak.
The World Heath Organisation this week called on all countries to ramp up testing programmes as the best way to slow the advance of the pandemic.
WHO Director General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said: “We have a simple message to all countries – test, test, test.
“All countries should be able to test all suspected cases. They cannot fight this pandemic blindfolded.”
This comes as the UK government ramped up measures against the coronavirus pandemic following new predictions that the UK could otherwise have seen 250,000 deaths.
A new document published by the COVID-19 team at London’s Imperial College – which is advising the government on its coronavirus response – warns the current public health threat is the “most serious” from a respiratory virus since the Spanish Flu in 1918.
They advised the UK adopts a strategy of “epidemic suppression” – for a period of potentially 18 months or more – rather than “mitigation”.
In other coronavirus developments:
- More than 179,000 people have been infected worldwide and more than 7,000 have died
- Over 78,000 have recovered, most in China
- Spain becomes fourth-most infected country after China, Italy and Iran with more than 9,191 cases and 309 deaths
- Canada, Norway and Denmark among countries that have announced emergency border closures
- Foreign Office advises British nationals against “all but essential travel”
- UK residents told to avoid “all necessary contact” with others and to avoid pubs, theatres and restaurants
- US implements strict new measures after cases climb to nearly 4,500, with at least 82 deaths
- McDonald’s, Taco Bell and Starbucks among chains to close seating areas in US
- Hong Kong, Greece and New Zealand among countries to quarantine visitors for 14 days
- India tightened its borders, while Greenland and Somalia reported first cases
- Cruise ships stranded in Caribbean, South America and Europe after new border restrictions