Italian town with no new Coronavirus cases suggests testing everyone is the solution

The northern Italian town of Vo’ was the first in Italy to record a death due to Coronavirus. Now, it’s been days since a new case was registered in the city. A scientific study undertaken by the University of Padua, aided by the Veneto Region and the Red Cross, has shown that by testing all inhabitants of the town, including those asymptomatic, they were able to halt the spread of the virus there. 

Vo’, in the Padua province, was among the first towns to be placed under lockdown as the Coronavirus began to spread in the country. The residents were contained in the town and access from other towns and provinces was prohibited. 

The town became a case study, consisting of researchers testing all the inhabitants for Coronavirus, whether they displayed symptoms or not. Each inhabitant was tested twice. The first wave of testing on 6 March revealed 90 people positive for Coronavirus. In the second testing a few days ago, the number had dropped to zero. 

Andrea Crisanti is an infections expert at Imperial College London who participated in the study. He told the Financial Times, “We were able to contain the outbreak here, because we identified and eliminated the ‘submerged’ infections and isolated them.” If someone tested positive for the virus, that person and all their contacts were quarantined. 

The project managed to identify at least six asymptomatic cases of Coronavirus, which would not have been caught had the town not tested every inhabitant. 

President of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, has been pushing for far more rigorous testing in the region. In a press conference he stated, “We have a project for the testing: we will do it on the road, outside supermarkets, on staff in supermarkets and others, because the more positive cases we find, the more we can isolate them and the less the spread [of the disease].”  

Despite his determination, it’s not certain mass testing will be adopted in the region or the country. As well as the economic drain, the practical rolling out of the procedure would be extremely difficult at an organisational level. Testing would also need to be done regularly as a negative result one day does not mean the person may not contract the disease in the following days. 

Furthermore, there is advice persuading countries against mass testing as false positive results, which are inevitable, can dangerously skew data and statistics. 

The advice from WHO, however, is to “test, test, test.”

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Written by

Rebecca Ann Hughes

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