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Italy welcomes EU regulator's green light of COVID-19 vaccine, as first new strain case confirmed

(Xinhua)    11:31, December 22, 2020

ROME, Dec. 21 (Xinhua) -- Italian health authorities welcomed the recommendation by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine for use, as the country registered its first case of the new coronavirus strain.

The Health Ministry said in a statement that the new variant of the virus, which was first detected in Britain, was sequenced at Celio Military Hospital in Rome.

The subject was reportedly a 25-year-old woman, who had returned to Rome from Britain with her British partner on Thursday, according to ANSA news agency quoting medical sources, adding that the partner has tested positive for COVID-19, but not for the new virus strain so far.

Both patients were isolated at home, and asymptomatic, although the woman would show a high virus load, ANSA reported.

A "NEW PHASE"

Meanwhile, Italy's Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the green light of the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine by the European Union (EU) would open "a new phase" in the fight against the pandemic.

Earlier on Monday, the EMA recommended the BioNTech-Pfizer vaccine for use to prevent the coronavirus disease in people over 16 years of age.

"This is the news we have been waiting for. Having an effective and safe vaccine available opens a new phase, and gives us more strength and confidence," Speranza said in a statement.

Speranza tweeted Thursday that the first shots of the COVID-19 vaccine in Italy -- with the European medicine watchdog's green light -- would likely take place on Dec. 27, simultaneously with other EU member states.

Following the watchdog's recommendation, the European Commission, the EU's executive branch, authorized the vaccine and paved the way for a possible start of vaccinations across the bloc.

EXPERTS SOOTHE PUBLIC CONCERNS

Various experts on Monday tried to soothe the public concerns caused by the news of the new virus strain detected in Britain.

Italy's National Institute for Infectious Diseases Lazzaro Spallanzani said in a statement that "no alarming alteration of virulence has occurred so far, although attention must be kept high."

Spallanzani is a public research institute and Italy's reference hospital for infectious diseases. It was the first center in Europe to have isolated the DNA sequence of the coronavirus in February.

Spallanzani's Health Director Francesco Vaia noted that variations of the virus have been seen during this pandemic already, and might occur again in the future.

"As it stands, this does not mean an aggravation of the disease or of its lethality, and, above all, it does not put the vaccine into question," Vaia told the state-run RAI 2 TV channel.

Speaking to private all-news TV channel Sky TG24, President of Italy's Higher Health Council Franco Locatelli also said any effect of the new virus variant on the effectiveness of the COVID-19 vaccine was considered as "highly improbable."

The country has registered a total of 1,964,054 coronavirus cases, including 613,582 active infections, 1,281,258 recoveries, and 69,214 fatalities, according to the Health Ministry.

The latest data showed 10,872 new coronavirus cases were registered on Monday against the previous day. However, active infections decreased by 9,178 cases.

A large majority (585,706) of active infections are currently isolated at home because of asymptomatic or with mild symptoms, while 25,145 patients are hospitalized and 2,731 in intensive care units.

The ministry's statistics also showed 19,632 new recoveries and 415 new fatalities compared with Sunday.

(For the latest China news, Please follow People's Daily on Twitter and Facebook)(Web editor: Wen Ying, Liang Jun)

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