Geopolitics

COVID-19 Spreads In South Of Italy: A New Fear For Second Wave

Italy was hit particularly hard and early by the first wave when northern region of Lombardy became the first epicenter of the virus in the West. Now all eyes are on the less developed, more vulnerable southern regions.

Emergencyhealth operators at Cotugno hospital in Naples
Emergencyhealth operators at Cotugno hospital in Naples
Alessio Perrone

A second wave of coronavirus infections is now arriving in Italy, a country that was hit particularly hard and early by the first wave. After the northern region of Lombardy became the first epicenter of the virus in the West last March, and nationwide deaths topped 35,000, Italy enjoyed a few months of respite during the summer. But now as contagions are soaring again in the North, politicians and scientists are also particularly concerned about the virus's spread in the country's southern regions that are less well-equipped to respond to the medical emergency.

Another nightmare up north: One-fourth of new cases are in Lombardy, pushing it to the brink of another "nightmare," writes La Stampa.

• Back in March, Lombardy was the first area where coronavirus took hold outside of China — local footage of hospitals and cemeteries at breaking point shocked the world.

• Italy recorded 8,804 new coronavirus cases on Thursday — more than it ever recorded during the lethal first wave. Of these, 2,067 were in Lombardy, and more than 1,000 in the regional capital, Milan.

• Several hospitals and doctors in the region said they were bracing for a looming boom in hospitalizations and critical cases.

A new emergency: But while Lombardy makes global headlines, the situation could be a lot more explosive in the Italian South, which isn't as prepared for an outbreak.

• The Italian South is less developed, more sparsely populated, and has fewer hospitals and ICU beds — meaning that a mid-sized outbreak could overwhelm local health-care facilities quickly.

• It also has less experience with outbreaks and social distancing: the first wave of coronavirus infections devastated the Italian north but largely spared southern regions like Sicily and Campania.

The southern Italian region of Campania made it mandatory to wear protective face coverings outdoors — Photo: Salvatore Laporta/IPA/ZUMA

It's happening: Unlike the first wave, the second wave is already taking its toll in the Italian South:

• The region of Campania, where Naples sits, also recorded its highest-ever number of new coronavirus cases on Thursday, 1,127.

• Authorities this week closed schools and banned all large gatherings.

Press shutdown, running out of beds: Around Naples, local authorities have banned health-care professionals from giving interviews in order not to create panic. Still, reports suggest that the lack of beds and staff means that the emergency has already started:

• "The numbers of the last few hours tell us that there are practically no more hospital beds and sub-intensive care beds," wrote Naples-based news website Fanpage.it.

• At a specialized "Covid Hospital" set up by local authorities in the region, local media report that only nine of the 49 ICU beds are available here, and ambulances were forced to queue outside Emergency Rooms, waiting for their turn to unload patients.

• A whistleblowing nurse at the Ospedale del Mare in Naples told the website that the hospital is unable to make use of about 60 ICU beds because it doesn't have nurses and doctors to staff them.

• "As soon as a bed becomes available, it is occupied immediately," a physiotherapist said about another hospital in the city.

Lessons learned: From Italy's North to South, as elsewhere in Europe, the booming rates of new cases has so far not brought with it the same high death rates as we saw last spring. Some credit the seven months of medical experience and improved treatment methods, though others warn that it is still early in the second wave. Regional divides have always been a problem in Italy, and a key to minimizing mortality rates will be information spreading around the country (and world) at least as fast as the virus.

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Green

In Argentina, A Visit To World's Highest Solar Energy Park

With loans and solar panels from China, the massive solar park has been opened a year and is already powering the surrounding areas. Now the Chinese supplier is pushing for an expansion.

960,000 solar panels have been installed at the Cauchari park

Silvia Naishtat

CAUCHARI — Driving across the border with Chile into the northwest Argentine department of Susques, you may spot what looks like a black mass in the distance. Arriving at a 4,000-meter altitude in the municipality of Cauchari, what comes into view instead is an assembly of 960,000 solar panels. It is the world's highest photovoltaic (PV) park, which is also the second biggest solar energy facility in Latin America, after Mexico's Aguascalientes plant.

Spread over 800 hectares in an arid landscape, the Cauchari park has been operating for a year, and has so far turned sunshine into 315 megawatts of electricity, enough to power the local provincial capital of Jujuy through the national grid.


It has also generated some $50 million for the province, which Governor Gerardo Morales has allocated to building 239 schools.

Abundant sunshine, low temperatures

The physicist Martín Albornoz says Cauchari, which means "link to the sun," is exposed to the best solar radiation anywhere. The area has 260 days of sunshine, with no smog and relatively low temperatures, which helps keep the panels in optimal conditions.

Its construction began with a loan of more than $331 million from China's Eximbank, which allowed the purchase of panels made in Shanghai. They arrived in Buenos Aires in 2,500 containers and were later trucked a considerable distance to the site in Cauchari . This was a titanic project that required 1,200 builders and 10-ton cranes, but will save some 780,000 tons of CO2 emissions a year.

It is now run by 60 technicians. Its panels, with a 25-year guarantee, follow the sun's path and are cleaned twice a year. The plant is expected to have a service life of 40 years. Its choice of location was based on power lines traced in the 1990s to export power to Chile, now fed by the park.

Chinese engineers working in an office at the Cauchari park

Xinhua/ZUMA

Chinese want to expand

The plant belongs to the public-sector firm Jemse (Jujuy Energía y Minería), created in 2011 by the province's then governor Eduardo Fellner. Jemse's president, Felipe Albornoz, says that once Chinese credits are repaid in 20 years, Cauchari will earn the province $600 million.

The Argentine Energy ministry must now decide on the park's proposed expansion. The Chinese would pay in $200 million, which will help install 400,000 additional panels and generate enough power for the entire province of Jujuy.

The park's CEO, Guillermo Hoerth, observes that state policies are key to turning Jujuy into a green province. "We must change the production model. The world is rapidly cutting fossil fuel emissions. This is a great opportunity," Hoerth says.

The province's energy chief, Mario Pizarro, says in turn that Susques and three other provincial districts are already self-sufficient with clean energy, and three other districts would soon follow.

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