Italy’s health minister has proposed “sectioning” people who refuse hospital treatment for Covid-19 and has suspended flights from Bangladesh as the southern European country grapples with several new coronavirus outbreaks.
The potential move towards forced hospitalisations came after a cluster of infections arose in the northern Veneto region, triggered by a man who developed coronavirus symptoms on the day he returned from a business trip to Serbia and initially resisted treatment in hospital.
The 64-year-old, from Vicenza, is now in a serious but stable condition in hospital. Five others tested positive and 89 people were quarantined after he attended a funeral and birthday party at which there were more than 100 guests.
“I am evaluating with my legal department the hypothesis of compulsory health treatment in cases where a person must be treated but [refuses] to be,” Roberto Speranza, the health minister, said. “At the same time, my thoughts on how Italians have behaved during this crisis are positive, as without this fundamental harmony we would not have bent the [rate of infection] curve.”
Italy’s Trattamento Sanitario Obbligatorio (mandatory medical treatment) is usually applied only in mental health cases, but can be enforced on those with an infectious disease.
Corriere della Sera reported that the measure had already been taken against an elderly woman from Monza in Lombardy, the region worst affected by the virus, who in early March refused hospital care despite presenting serious symptoms.
Speranza also warned that those with Covid-19 who break isolation rules face jail and that the 14-day quarantine measure for people arriving in Italy from countries outside of the Schengen area must be adhered to.
The minister said he suspended flights from Bangladesh for a week after “a significant” number of the over 200 passengers who arrived at Rome’s Fiumicino airport on Monday from Dhaka tested positive. The tests were enforced after an outbreak among the Bengali community in the Lazio region, where 12 of the 19 cases registered on Monday originated from those had recently returned from Dhaka.
“After all the sacrifices made we cannot afford to import infections from abroad,” Speranza said. “Better to continue to follow the line of utmost caution.”
At a national level, the infection and death rate have slowed significantly since Italy began easing lockdown restrictions in early May, with 208 new cases and eight fatalities recorded on Monday. But 19 clusters have emerged across the country since the middle of June, according to a report in Corriere della Sera over the weekend.
The biggest outbreak so far has occurred in Bologna, in Emilia-Romagna, where by early July 117 workers at a courier firm were infected with the virus. In late June, the army was sent to Mondragone, a town near Naples, to seal an apartment complex where an outbreak had occurred among Bulgarian farm workers. Seven hundred residents were quarantined, with 73 testing positive for Covid-19 by 4 July. The next significant outbreak has been in Mantua, a city in Lombardy where 52 infections were detected among workers at two meat factories.
Nicola Zingaretti, the president of Lazio and leader of the Democratic party, one of the parties governing nationally, on Tuesday urged people to “respect the rules” in order to not waste the sacrifices that have been made.
Luca Zaia, the president of the Veneto region, also called for forced hospitalisations and has introduced €1,000 fines for people who flout quarantine rules. Until the recent flare-ups Veneto was hailed for successfully containing the contagion despite being a hotspot at the beginning of Italy’s pandemic. Another outbreak occurred in the city of Padua when a person returning from Moldova infected 10 others.