“The Italian Government and the World Health Organization have been wrong”

On February 25, when the coronavirus seemed limited in Italy to 10 municipalities in Lombardy and one in Veneto, the ‘Corriere Fiorentino’ published a visionary letter from Sergio Romagnani, emeritus professor of clinical immunology at the University of Florence and one of the most respected Italian experts in infectious diseases. Romagnani criticized the errors of interpretation and organization in that initial phase and warned about the difficulties of ICUs in hospitals to respond to the pandemic that was coming to the country.

– Unfortunately their predictions have come true …

– It is a pity that it is thus. That letter has been around the world. The indications of the Government, the scientific committee that advises him and the World Health Organization (WHO) were wrong. They said that only people with symptoms needed to be tested and that it was not necessary for the rest of us to use the masks. There were a series of strategic errors from the national and regional point of view.

– In Lombardy the cases skyrocketed in the first weeks, but in Veneto the growth was much more contained. Why?

– In Lombardy the 10 affected municipalities were closed, but only patients with symptoms were tested for the coronavirus. In Vo ‘Euganeo, the Venetian town where another outbreak arose, the bolt was also imposed, but there the tests were carried out on the entire population. It was thus discovered that there were many asymptomatic infected patients. This way they could control their movements and prevent them from continuing to infect other people. In Lombardy, on the other hand, the same was not done and a new focus emerged in Bergamo, where there has been a tragedy with thousands of infected and dead. I think it is something similar to what happened in Madrid.

-The Lombard regional president, Attilio Fontana, assures that he always followed the indications of the medical authorities.

-Exactly. But the indications were wrong. In Veneto, on the other hand, they have chosen to act a little on their own and extend the Vo ‘Euganeo experience to the entire region, carrying out more than 10,000 coronavirus tests a day to discover asymptomatic patients. In Lombardy it is only done to those with symptoms, which contributes little because we already know how the disease develops.

–The infected curve has finally entered a downward phase in Italy. What steps would you advise taking now?

– There will come a time when the bolt will have to be lifted, because if not, the alternative to the pandemic will be hunger. We will have to live with the coronavirus until a vaccine arrives. To the president of my region, Tuscany, I have advised various measures. We must continue to maintain a safe distance, force everyone to wear masks and continue to prohibit moments of playful crowds, such as sporting events, gyms, dance halls, concerts … Restaurants may open if they guarantee a safety distance between tables. And then there is the problem of nursing homes and medical centers. The professionals who work there must be continuously tested and must always wear protective devices.

– Will the blood tests to know if the coronavirus has already been passed and if there are antibodies will be decisive in this new phase of the pandemic?

–In Italy serological tests have been developed that seem very reliable. They will be very useful for three reasons. They will give us very important epidemiological data to know how many people may be affected. With this test, in addition, whoever we know who has already developed antibodies will be able to work again. And, thirdly, we will thus have plasma to cure those infected. Even for a few weeks, that plasma would allow many people to overcome the disease.

– How long do you think the coronavirus vaccine will take?

“Maybe in about a year we will have it.” I am optimistic, this type of virus is sensitive to neutralizing antibodies. Until the vaccine is developed and proven effective, we will have to learn to live with the coronavirus in the so-called ‘phase two’, in which some activities will be resumed.

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