Coronavirus pandemic: How one Italian town stopped all new infections simply by testing everyone

Experts are urging countries that have been limiting virus testing, which includes the UK and US, to learn  from Vo


                            Coronavirus pandemic: How one Italian town stopped all new infections simply by testing everyone
(Claudio Furlan/Lapresse via AP)

A small town in Northern Italy is setting an example as to how countries can beat the new coronavirus. 

The town named Vo, from which Italy recorded its first coronavirus death has not reported any new cases of coronavirus since last week. Thanks to aggressive testing, all the 3,300 inhabitants were screened — not once, but twice.

“We were able to contain the outbreak here, because we identified and eliminated the ‘submerged’ infections and isolated them,” Andrea Crisanti, an infections expert at Imperial College London, who took part in the Vo project, told the Financial Times. “That is what makes the difference.”

The town stayed true to the recommendations laid out by the World Health Organization(WHO). "We have a simple message for all countries: test, test, test,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, said during a media briefing.  Testing and isolating all suspected individuals, according to the WHO, can prevent new infections from emerging in a population.

According to the Financial Times, Crisanti urged countries that have been limiting virus testing, which includes the UK and US, to learn from Vo.

Helping Vo accomplish this feat is a team of scientists from the University of Padua along with people from the Veneto Region and the Red Cross, who turned the town into a laboratory. Here they tested all the inhabitants, including those who showed no symptoms, to learn more about the virus and how it spreads.

Many communities across the Lombardy and Veneto regions have seen the suspension of public events and church services, and the closure of grade schools, universities, and museums (Marco Di Lauro/Getty Images)

When the team began the study, 90 inhabitants already had the infection. The team tested all the inhabitants twice. During the first round of tests, about half of those who tested positive had no symptoms. And when the team tested the population for the second time, they caught six people showing no symptoms testing positive for COVID-19.

This helped the team avert new infections in the population. “The percentage of infected people, even if asymptomatic, in the population is very high,” wrote Sergio Romagnani, professor of clinical immunology at the University of Florence, in a letter to the authorities. “The isolation of asymptomatics is essential to be able to control the spread of the virus and the severity of the disease.”

Following Vo's success, large-scale testing will extend to the entire Veneto region, Veneto Governor Luca Zaia told Reuters.

But Lombardy — the epicenter of the outbreak in Italy — is not in a position to replicate such measures. “With current resources, it does not make sense to speak about mass screening in an area with 10 million inhabitants,” Governor Attilio Fontana told RaiNews 24 TV channel.

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