The Debate Now: Does The Coronavirus Still Even Exist?

A pair of front-line doctors in Italy battling COVID-19, which hit the nation hard, killing thousands, now say the coronavirus either “clinically no longer exists,” or is greatly weakened.

“In reality, the virus clinically no longer exists in Italy,” Alberto Zangrillo, the head of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, said, according to Reuters.

“The swabs that were performed over the last 10 days showed a viral load in quantitative terms that was absolutely infinitesimal compared to the ones carried out a month or two months ago,” he told RAI television.

Matteo Bassetti, the director of the infectious diseases clinic of the San Martino hospital in Genoa, also said Monday that the virus is no longer as potent. The virus “may now be different: the firepower it had two months ago is not the same firepower it has today,” he said, the Italian news agency ANSA reported.

“Currently the new coronavirus is circulating less, that is, the viral load in circulation among the population has diminished and this is the effect of both the lockdown and the measures still in place such as use of the masks and distancing.”

COVID-19 cases peaked in mid-April and while numbers continue to stay high, most experts attribute that to the surge in testing. “Italy, specifically, now averages fewer than 100 COVID-19 deaths per day after becoming the global epicenter just two months ago,” Reuters reported.

Zangrillo said some experts continue to be alarmist about the prospect of a second wave of infections and added that politicians need to take into account the new reality.

The two claims from the doctors have set off a global debate. Coronaviruses are known to wilt in the heat and humidity, but it’s too early in the summer months to determine if that’s what’s happening with SARS-CoV-2.

Franco Locatelli, the head of Italy’s top health advisory body, took issue with the two doctors.

“I can only express great surprise and absolute bewilderment for the statements made by Professor Zangrillo. Just look at the number of new cases confirmed every day to have evidence of the persistent circulation of the virus in Italy,” he told ANSA.

Sandra Zampa, an undersecretary at the health ministry, also cautioned, “Pending scientific evidence to support the thesis that the virus has disappeared … I would invite those who say they are sure of it not to confuse Italians,” she said in a statement, Reuters reported.

Meanwhile, the World Health Organization (WHO), warned Monday that the virus has not suddenly become less lethal. “This is still a killer virus,” Michael Ryan, executive director of the WHO’s health emergencies program, told a virtual press briefing on Monday.

“We need to be exceptionally careful not to create a sense that, all of a sudden, the virus, by its own volition, has now decided to be less pathogenic. That is not the case at all,” Ryan said. “It may not be the case that the virus is becoming less potent, it may be the case that we are, as a community and as a globe, are successfully reducing the number, intensity and frequency of exposure to that virus, which then on the face of it, then looks weaker.”


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