CEPA would like to kindly thank ANID for the following contribution. The following is an account of COVID-19 events in Italy from a pest management perspective, including how ANID interacted with the Italian authorities in order to get pest management explicity recognised for its essential role. Find out how your country compares on our tracker.
On 31st December 2019 China reported a cluster of pneumonia cases of unknown origin (later identified as a new Sars-CoV-2 coronavirus) in the city of Wuhan. The first two cases were identified in Italy on 22 January and the first precautionary measures were put in place by the Ministry of Health, who established a special task force to manage the crisis.
From 25th to 31st January, all passengers arriving from China via either direct or indirect flights started to be controlled; in the following days, flights were prohibited from landing in Wuhan, causing a sharp drop of in the flow of passengers. On 30th January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the coronavirus epidemic as a Public Health Emergency of International Concern.
In the following days, the Italian government, considering the outbreak widespread, proclaimed the state of emergency and implemented the first measures to contain the infection throughout the country. The first containment interventions aimed to isolate positive cases, track their close contacts and identify any localised or small outbreaks. The first patient of an outbreak in Lombardy, was discovered in Codogno on February 21. That same day, the number of reported infections increased, with 15 people infected shortly after. Almost simultaneously another outbreak was discovered in Vo’ Euganeo.
With the Prime Ministerial Decree of February 23th 2020, the first two "red areas" were isolated: 10 municipalities in the Lodi area and the municipality of Vo 'Euganeo.
A few days later, after noting the spread of the virus and the increase in cases in other national territories, the Prime Ministerial Decree of February 25th 2020 was introduced to regulate the hosting of sporting events and the closure of schools and universities, as well as health prevention measures for prisons, access to driving tests, and cultural and tourist activities, in all the municipalities of the Emilia-Romagna, Friuli-Venezia Giulia, Lombardy, Veneto, Liguria and Piedmont regions.
From that moment, following the recommendations from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) "Infection prevention and control for the care of patients with 2019-nCoV in healthcare settings", disinfection started to be requested for areas contaminated by infected patients: regular cleaning and disinfection of surfaces with effective active substances against viruses began to be carried out in the a variety of ways.
In the "Interim guidance for environmental cleaning in non-healthcare facilities exposed to SARS -CoV-2" issued by ECDC on the 18th February, effective and tested active disinfectants on coronaviruses already known to science were reported, highlighting that sodium hypochlorite and ethanol in high concentration are the only effective disinfectants for COVID-19. This information was then reported by the Italian Ministry of Health who, in an informative document, recommended sanitising healthcare and non-healthcare environments using sodium hypochlorite (0.1% - 0.5%) ethanol (62% -71%) as disinfectants and adding the use of hydrogen peroxide (0.5%) for healthcare environments.
From this base, local requirements vary between ordinances of mayors and regional presidencies, which can be either more or less severe than those indicated by the national government. These involve schools, gyms, meeting places, leisure spots, places of worship, public transport; wherever gatherings may be held. New clarifications then followed, regulating restaurants, hotels, spas, coffee bars, hairdressers, offices, etc.
Despite the fact that the provision of disinfection services was shown by self-certification and invoices for the purchase of disinfectant products, PCOs were quickly overwhelmed, as they were recognised for their unique place in being able to guarantee a certifiable sanitation processes, especially if operating according to the EN16636 standard.
In the following days, increasing and spreading COVID-19, the virus spread beyond the isolated areas and the containment measures became progressively more restrictive, forcing the entire nation to stay at home and limiting commercial activities to only necessary outings.
Activities practiced by Pest Control Organisations (PCOs) and cleaning companies were immediately recognised as essential, alongside the food supply chain and all sectors that guarantee basic necessities throughout the country.
Companies continuing to work had to revise the biological risk assessment by introducing specific personnel protection measures, in both the use of specific PPE and in sanitization procedures, taking into account disinfection processes that had not been considered before this pandemic. Above and beyond the initial obvious targets for disinfection such as places where food is sold, especially supermarkets, and healthcare environments, periodic disinfection has also been considered for large vehicles, cranes, tractors and vans, which is mostly carried out by PCOs who are able to guarantee their effectiveness through documented certificates. Furthermore, local administrations, where there have also been cases of suspected contamination or isolation of infected people, have obliged the disinfection of common parts of the buildings (stairs, handrails, doors and elevators).
Street disinfection has also begun, but here is worth taking time to consider what these treatments are. In the rush to disinfect everything people touch, many local administrations have implemented disinfection programs spreading hypochlorite on the streets and sidewalks. At ANID’s request, the Superior Study bodies that support the decisions of the Ministries of Health and the Environment intervened to block this initiative, signalling the serious risk of soil pollution and consequently of groundwater and rivers due to the indiscriminate use of the disinfectant.
In this context ANID played a vital role. Although it is common knowledge that the cleaning companies can easily undertake the entire sanitisation process alone, the ANID Presidency has underlined the professionalism of the PCOs during COVID-19, working with the industrial federations and the National Health Ministry to report any abnormal or improper actions that have been undertaken by untrained operators and companies without the correct expertise. ANID’s action has also been turned towards local administrations, flagging to them that disinfection treatments must be conducted in compliance with the current biocides legislation to comply with the basic requirement to draw up a warrantee certificate. Furthermore, ANID was responsible for the inclusion of PCOs in the list of essential activities, promptly presenting valid reasons to the parliament to avoid a situation in which Italy would end up without professional technicians who are also able to protect the environment.
All this showed ANID that it was necessary to give sharable guidelines to all parties involved. In the last few days ANID submitted a very complete document detailing the protocols of proper disinfection to the Ministry of Health for evaluation. The enthusiastic first endorsement lead the ANID Presidency to start mailing the complete guidelines to other stakeholders, with the aim of giving them a reference to ensure the safety of operators, as well as aiming to acquiring suggestions in order to produce a single document that will be applicable and accepted throughout Italy. Put simply, a document that can become the standard for PCOs and to which administrations can refer.