Italy reports 348 coronavirus deaths on Monday, 10,800 new cases

ROME (Reuters) -Italy reported 348 coronavirus-related deaths on Monday against 347 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections fell to 10,800 from 14,245.

However, the number of swab tests also fell, as often happens at the weekend, amounting to just 77,993 against a previous 102,974.

Italy has registered 75,680 COVID-19 deaths since its outbreak came to light on Feb. 21, the highest toll in Europe and the fifth highest in the world. The country has also reported 2.166 million cases to date, the health ministry said.

Patients in hospital with COVID-19 stood at 23,317 on Monday, up 242 on the day before. There were 136 admissions to intensive care units, compared with 154 on Sunday.

The current number of intensive care patients fell by four to 2,579, reflecting those who died or were discharged after recovery.

When Italy’s second wave of the epidemic was accelerating fast in the first half of November, hospital admissions were rising by about 1,000 per day, while intensive care occupancy was increasing by about 100 per day.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; Editing by Angelo Amante)

Europe crosses 500,000 COVID-19 deaths as new variant spreads

By Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia

(Reuters) – Europe became the first region worldwide to cross 500,000 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, according to a Reuters tally, as a new variant of the coronavirus discovered in Britain threatened the region’s prevention measures to curb the pandemic.

Reports of the mutated variant out of England prompted a pre-Christmas lockdown and have forced dozens of countries to close their borders to British travelers this week.

Italy, the nation with the highest death toll in Europe, on Sunday detected a patient infected with the new variant as have Denmark and France.

To curb the spread, European countries are considering screening passengers on flights from UK and obligating quarantine for travelers upon arrival.

Earlier this month, the United Kingdom became the first nation to approve the Pfizer Inc – BioNTech vaccine followed by the United States, European Union and other countries.

Europe has reported about 30% of the global COVID-19 fatalities and cases so far, according to a Reuters tally.

Europe’s death toll has accelerated in recent months. Since the first COVID-19 death was reported in France in February, it took eight months for the region to reach 250,000 deaths. It took only 60 days for the region to go from 250,000 to 500,000 deaths.

France, Spain, Italy, the United Kingdom and Russia have reported hundreds of deaths a day and the five countries account for almost 60% of the region’s total fatalities.

Globally there have been 77.52 million cases and 1.71 million deaths, according to a Reuters tally.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan and Shaina Ahluwalia in Bengaluru; Editing by Lisa Shumaker)

“Lock down,” says Italy adviser, as deaths head for wartime levels

By Reuters Staff

ROME (Reuters) – An adviser to Italy’s health ministry has called for coronavirus restrictions to be drastically tightened to avoid a “national tragedy” after the national statistics bureau ISTAT said deaths this year would be the highest since World War Two.

“We are in a war situation, people don’t realize it but the last time we had this many deaths, bombs were dropping on our cities during the war,” public health professor Walter Ricciardi told the television channel la7 on Tuesday evening.

Ricciardi, the adviser to Health Minister Roberto Speranza, said the government, which is considering tightening restrictions over the Christmas and New Year holidays, should lock down the main cities completely.

In an interview with Wednesday’s daily La Stampa, he said Rome had been “constantly late” in responding to the second, autumn wave of the virus.

Italy reported 846 COVID-19 deaths on Tuesday, taking the official total to 65,857, the fifth highest in the world.

As in many other countries, that total is widely considered to be an underestimate because many people who died of COVID-19 during the first wave were never tested for the virus.

ISTAT head Gian Carlo Blangiardo said on Tuesday that the overall number of deaths in Italy this year would exceed 700,000, against 647,000 in 2019.

“The last time something like this happened was in 1944 when we were at the height of the Second World War,” he told RAI state television.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte on Tuesday urged Italians to avoid “irresponsible” gatherings over the holidays and said the government might make some “small adjustments” to its current restrictions.

But Ricciardi told La Stampa this was not enough:

“The Netherlands has locked down with half our deaths, Germany has locked down with a third of them – I don’t understand this hesitation. If we don’t take adequate measures, we are heading for a national tragedy.”

Judge orders mass trial as Italy takes on ‘Ndrangheta mobsters

By Crispian Balmer

ROME (Reuters) – A judge on Thursday indicted 444 suspected members of the ‘Ndrangheta mafia on an array of charges, including murder, attempted murder, extortion, money laundering and drug trafficking, a judicial source said.

The trial of 355 of the defendants will start on Jan. 13 and will be one of the largest cases to target organized crime in Italy since the so-called maxiprocesso that severely weakened Sicily’s more storied Cosa Nostra mafia group in the 1980s.

A further 89 suspects agreed to a quickfire trial in the same case, which will start on Jan. 27, said the source, speaking on condition of anonymity, who had a copy of the court indictments. Those who accept such shorter hearings get reduced sentences if found guilty.

The ‘Ndrangheta is based in the southern region of Calabria, the toe of Italy’s boot, and has surpassed Cosa Nostra to become the most powerful mafia group in the country – and one of the largest crime gangs in the world.

Anticipating Thursday’s ruling, a fortified courthouse has been built in the Calabrian city of Lamezia Terme, large enough to house the defendants, lawyers, prosecutors and judges.

The case hit the headlines a year ago when police arrested 334 people, including lawyers, accountants, public officials and court clerks, in one of the largest anti-mob operations ever seen in Italy.

“Obviously mafias change and evolve along with the society around them and they get to look increasingly like the rest of us. Mafiosi are not Martians, they live among us,” Nicola Gratteri, the lead prosecutor on the case, said this week.

“Mafiosi prefer corrupting people rather than killing them, because shootings draw unwelcome attention,” he added.

The last time Italy tried hundreds of alleged mafiosi simultaneously was in 1986 in Palermo in a case which represented a turning point in the fight against Cosa Nostra, marking the beginning of the group’s sharp decline.

The Calabrian trial involves a high number of white-collared workers and does not target the top hierarchies of the ‘Ndrangheta clans in the way the Palermo case did.

Gratteri told reporters that the group had spread far from its remote southern bastion and was present in every region of the country as well as in parts of Europe and north America.

He said it had grown easier for mobsters to infiltrate local administrations and win lucrative contracts or siphon off funds.

“There has been a sharp fall in ethics and morals (in society) in recent years … which has made it easier to corrupt public officials. This doesn’t just involve Italy. It involves the Western world,” he said.

(Reporting by Crispian Balmer; editing by Barbara Lewis)

Europe COVID death toll tops 300,000 as winter looms and infections surge

By Shaina Ahluwalia, Anurag Maan and Roshan Abraham

(Reuters) – More than 300,000 people have died of COVID-19 across Europe, according to a Reuters tally on Tuesday, and authorities fear that fatalities and infections will continue to rise as the region heads into winter despite hopes for a new vaccine.

With just 10% of the world’s population, Europe accounts for almost a quarter of the 1.2 million deaths globally, and even its well-equipped hospitals are feeling the strain.

After achieving a measure of control over the pandemic with broad lockdowns earlier this year, case numbers have surged since the summer and governments have ordered a second series of restrictions to limit social contacts.

In all, Europe has reported some 12.8 million cases and about 300,114 deaths. Over the past week, it has seen 280,000 cases a day, up 10% from the week earlier, representing just over half of all new infections reported globally.

Hopes have been raised by Pfizer Inc’s announcement of a potentially effective new vaccine, but it is not expected to be generally available before 2021 and health systems will have to cope with the winter months unaided.

Britain, which has imposed a fresh lockdown in England, has the highest death toll in Europe at around 49,000, and health experts have warned that with a current average of more than 20,000 cases daily, the country will exceed its “worst case” scenario of 80,000 deaths.

France, Spain, Italy and Russia have also reported hundreds of deaths a day and together, the five countries account for almost three quarters of the total fatalities.

Already facing the prospect of a wave of job losses and business failures, governments across the region have been forced to order control measures including local curfews, closing non-essential shops and restricting movement.

France, the worst-affected country in the EU, has registered more than 48,700 infections per day over the past week and the Paris region’s health authority said last week that 92% of its ICU capacity was occupied.

Facing similar pressures, Belgian and Dutch hospitals have been forced to send some severely ill patients to Germany.

In Italy, which became a global symbol of the crisis when army trucks were used to transport the dead during the early months of the pandemic, daily average new cases are at a peak at more than 32,500. Deaths have been rising by more than 320 per day over the past three weeks.

While the new vaccine being developed by Pfizer and German partner BioNTech will take time to arrive, authorities are hoping that once winter is passed, it will stem further outbreaks next year.

Citi Private Bank analysts described the news as “the first major advance toward a Post-COVID world economy”.

“More than any fiscal spending package or central bank lending program, a healthcare solution to COVID has the greatest potential to restore economic activity to its full potential…” it said in a note.

European Commission President Ursula von der Leyen on Monday said the European Union would soon sign a contract for 300 million doses of the vaccine, just hours after the drugmaker announced promising late-stage trials.

Yet health experts cautioned that the vaccine, should it be approved, was no silver bullet – not least because the genetic material it’s made from needs to be stored at temperatures of minus 70 degrees Celsius (-94 F) or below.

Such requirements pose a challenge for countries in Asia, as well as Africa and Latin America, where intense heat is often compounded by poor infrastructure.

(Reporting by Anurag Maan, Shaina Ahluwalia, Chaithra J and Roshan Abraham in Bengaluru, Sujata Rao-Coverley in London; editing by Jane Wardell, James Mackenzie, Nick Macfie and Mike Collett-White)

Countries turn to rapid antigen tests to contain second wave of COVID-19

By John Miller, Caroline Copley and Bart H. Meijer

ZURICH/BERLIN (Reuters) – Countries straining to contain a second wave of COVID-19 are turning to faster, cheaper but less accurate tests to avoid the delays and shortages that have plagued efforts to diagnose and trace those infected quickly.

Germany, where infections jumped by 4,122 on Tuesday to 329,453 total, has secured 9 million so-called antigen tests per month that can deliver a result in minutes and cost about 5 euros ($5.90) each. That would, in theory, cover more than 10% of the population.

The United States and Canada are also buying millions of tests, as is Italy, whose recent tender for 5 million tests attracted offers from 35 companies. Switzerland, where new COVID-19 cases are at record levels, is considering adding the tests to its nationwide screening strategy.

Germany’s Robert Koch Institute (RKI) now recommends antigen tests to complement existing molecular PCR tests, which have become the standard for assessing active infections but which have also suffered shortages as the pandemic overwhelmed laboratories and outstripped manufacturers’ production capacity.

PCR tests detect genetic material in the virus while antigen tests detect proteins on the virus’s surface, though both are meant to pick up active infections. Another type of test, for antibodies the body produces in response to an infection, can help tell if somebody has had COVID-19 in the past.

Like PCR (polymerase chain reaction) tests, antigen tests require an uncomfortable nasal swab. They can also produce more “false negatives,” prompting some experts to recommend they only be used in a pinch.

Still, the alarming rise in new infections globally has health officials desperately pursuing more options as the winter influenza season looms.

The World Health Organization reported more than 2 million new cases last week, bringing the total worldwide to 37 million, with more than 1 million deaths from COVID-19.

“These point-of-care tests could make a big difference,” said Gerard Krause, epidemiology department director at Germany’s Helmholtz Centre for Infection Research.

NO TEST NO FLIGHT

Krause said low-priority patients – those without symptoms – could initially be screened with antigen tests, leaving the more accurate PCR tests for those showing signs of the disease.

Antigen tests have already gained traction in the travel industry. Italian airline Alitalia offers Rome-Milan flights exclusively for passengers with negative tests and Germany’s Lufthansa has announced similar testing plans.

But the pandemic’s vast scale has strained the ability of countries to test all of their citizens, making it difficult to track the twisting paths of infection comprehensively and prevent a resurgence.

In the United States, for example, reliance on automated PCR machinery over the summer left many patients frustrated as they waited for a week or more for results.

Testing in Europe has also suffered glitches.

France does over a million tests a week but its free-for-all testing policy has led to long queues and delays in results, prompting French researchers to come up with a test they say can produce results in 40 minutes, without using a swab.

Italy does between 800,000 and 840,000 tests a week, more than double April’s levels, according to the Ministry of Health. But a government adviser, University of Padua microbiology professor Andrea Crisanti, said the country needs 2 million tests a week to really get on top of the virus.

In the Netherlands, where infection rates are among Europe’s highest, the government has been scrambling to expand weekly testing and lab capacity to 385,000 by next week from 280,000 now. The target is nearly half a million tests a week by December and just under 600,000 by February.

But people have been waiting days for a test. The authorities blame the overwhelming demand from those without clear symptoms for clogging up the system.

In response, the authorities have restricted rapid antigen tests to health workers and teachers, while others go on a waiting list.

‘GOLD STANDARD’

The various hitches highlight a conundrum for governments: how to get people back to work while tracing the virus within the population quickly – without running out of supplies.

Siemens Healthineers, which on Wednesday announced the launch of a rapid antigen test kit in Europe that can deliver a result in 15 minutes, said the volumes of such diagnostic tests being circulated globally now are “at the limits” of what manufacturers can supply.

Rivals including Abbott Laboratories and Becton Dickinson also offer numerous COVID-19 diagnostic tests, with more and more companies jumping in.

Swiss diagnostics maker Roche, announced plans on Tuesday to launch a new antigen test by the end of the year. Its fully automated systems can provide a test result in 18 minutes and a single lab machine can process 300 tests an hour.

By early 2021, the Basel-based company said it could make some 50 million of the new tests a month, on top of the rapid point-of-care tests it already sells.

Roche said the test could be deployed in places such as nursing homes or hospitals, where speedy results could thwart a potentially lethal outbreak.

“The primary use case is the testing of symptomatic patients,” a Roche spokeswoman said. “The secondary use case is the testing of individuals suspected of infection … which could also include asymptomatic patients.”

Expert opinion, however, on just how to use antigen tests is evolving and remains the subject of debate.

Switzerland, where reported new infections spiked to 2,823 cases on Wednesday from as low as three per day in June, is only now validating the accuracy of the rapid tests.

“Deployment of the rapid tests – where it makes sense – will be integrated into our testing strategy,” a spokesman for the Swiss federal health ministry said. “We’ll update our testing recommendations in November.”

Sandra Ciesek, director of the Institute of Medical Virology at the University Clinic in Frankfurt, Germany said rapid antigen tests could be an option for asymptomatic patients planning to visit elderly patients at nursing homes.

But people should refrain from using them as a definitive substitute to judge their infection status.

“The PCR test remains the gold standard,” Ciesek said. “An antigen test should only be used as an alternative if PCR is not possible in a timely manner.”

(Reporting by John Miller in Zurich, Caroline Copley in Berlin, Emilio Parodi and Giselda Vagnoni in Milan, Josephine Mason in London, Bart Meijer in Amsterdam and Matthias Blamont in Paris; Editing by David Clarke)

Exclusive: New global lab network will compare COVID-19 vaccines head-to-head

By Kate Kelland

LONDON (Reuters) – A major non-profit health emergencies group has set up a global laboratory network to assess data from potential COVID-19 vaccines, allowing scientists and drugmakers to compare them and speed up selection of the most effective shots.

Speaking to Reuters ahead of announcing the labs involved, Melanie Saville, director of vaccine R&D at the Coalition for Epidemic Preparedness Innovations (CEPI), said the idea was to “compare apples with apples” as drugmakers race to develop an effective shot to help control the COVID-19 pandemic.

The centralized network is the first of its kind to be set up in response to a pandemic.

In a network spanning Europe, Asia and North America, the labs will centralize analysis of samples from trials of COVID-19 candidates “as though vaccines are all being tested under one roof”, Saville said, aiming to minimize the risk of variation in results.

“When you start off (with developing potential new vaccines) especially with a new disease, everyone develops their own assays, they all use different protocols and different reagents – so while you get a readout, the ability to compare between different candidates is very difficult,” she told Reuters.

“By taking the centralized lab approach … it will give us a chance to really make sure we are comparing apples with apples.”

The CEPI network will initially involve six labs, one each in Canada, Britain, Italy, the Netherlands, Bangladesh and India, Saville said.

Hundreds of potential COVID-19 vaccines are in various stages of development around the world, with shots developed in Russia and China already being deployed before full efficacy trials have been done, and front-runners from Pfizer, Moderna and AstraZeneca likely to have final-stage trial results before year-end.

Typically, the immunogenicity of potential vaccines is assessed in individual lab analyses, which aim to see whether biomarkers of immune response – such as antibodies and T-cell responses – are produced after clinical trial volunteers receive a dose, or doses, of the vaccine candidate.

But with more than 320 COVID-19 vaccine candidates in the works, Saville said, the many differences in data collection and evaluation methods are an issue.

As well as potential variations in markers of immunity, there are differences in how and where samples are collected, transported and stored – all of which can impact the quality and usefulness of the data produced, and make comparisons tricky.

And with a range of different vaccine technologies being explored – from viral vector vaccines to ones based on messenger RNA – standard evaluation of their true potential “becomes very complex”, she said.

“With hundreds of COVID-19 vaccines in development … it’s essential that we have a system that can reliably evaluate and compare the immune response of candidates currently undergoing testing,” she said.

By centralizing the analysis in a lab network, much of what Saville called the “inter-laboratory variability” can be removed, allowing for head-to-head comparisons.

CEPI says all developers of potential COVID-19 vaccines can use the centralized lab network for free to assess their candidates against a common protocol. For now, the network will assess samples from early-stage vaccine candidate testing and first and second stage human trials, but CEPI said it hoped to expand its capacity to late stage (Phase III) trial data in the coming months.

Results produced by the network will be sent back to the developer, with neither CEPI nor the network owning the data.

CEPI itself is co-funding nine of the potential COVID-19 vaccines in development, including candidates from Moderna, AstraZeneca, Novavax and CureVac.

(Reporting by Kate Kelland, editing by Mark Potter)

U.S. troops to start extended exercises in Lithuania amid tensions over Belarus

By Andrius Sytas

VILNIUS (Reuters) – U.S. troops and tanks will arrive in Lithuania on Friday for a two-month deployment near the Belarus border, but the government said the move was not a message to its Russian-backed neighbor, where protests continue over a disputed election.

In an announcement on Wednesday evening, NATO member Lithuania said U.S. troops will be moved from Poland for pre-planned military exercises. These are “defensive in nature and not directed against any neighbor, including Belarus,” it added.

However, the troops are arriving earlier and staying longer than the government had indicated before the outbreak of protests in Belarus over the Aug. 9 election that returned President Alexander Lukashenko, a key ally of Russian leader Vladimir Putin, to power.

Lukashenko has denied accusations by the Belarus opposition and Western countries that the vote was rigged and has resisted protesters’ demands to step down. He has accused NATO of a military buildup near Belarus’ borders, something the alliance denied, and has said he will ask for Russian military help if needed.

The deployment in Lithuania, which will begin on Friday and will last until November, includes 500 American troops and 40 vehicles, such as Abrams tanks and Bradley armored troop carriers, a Lithuanian army spokesman said.

On July 29, Lithuanian Defense Minister Raimundas Karoblis told BNS wire the United States would send a battalion-sized troop contingent – between 300 to 1,000 soldiers – in September, for two weeks’ training, beginning in the middle of the month.

He repeated that information on Aug. 4 in an interview with public radio LRT.

“Deployment was aligned with training schedule and training area availability,” defense minister spokeswoman Vita Ramanauskaite told Reuters.

In addition to the U.S. deployment, up to 1,000 troops and military planes from France, Italy, Germany, Poland and others will take part in an annual exercise on Sept. 14-25, the Lithuanian army spokesman said.

The ministry did not state any plans for those troops to stay beyond Sept. 25.

Karoblis said earlier this month that there was a real danger Russia would send forces to Belarus.

(Reporting by Andrius Sytas; Editing by Simon Johnson, Steve Orlofsky and Frances Kerry)

Italy says China a key strategic partner, despite U.S. concerns

By Angelo Amante

ROME (Reuters) – Italy and China need to forge closer ties, Italian Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio said on Tuesday, potentially putting Rome at odds with Washington, which has raised alarm over Beijing’s economic ambitions.

Di Maio was speaking after talks with the Chinese government’s top diplomat State Councillor Wang Yi, who was beginning a visit to Europe that will also include the Netherlands, Norway, France and Germany.

Italy became the first major Western economy to join China’s international infrastructure project, the Belt and Road Initiative, when it signed a raft of accords in 2019. However, the move has yielded little for Italy so far.

“It was a very fruitful meeting,” Di Maio said, adding that he had discussed with Wang how to “relaunch (our) strategic partnership from the economic and industrial view point”.

Wang told reporters it was important for China and the European Union to strengthen relations and deepen cooperation to tackle the coronavirus.

U.S. President Donald Trump blames Beijing for the spread of the disease, which emerged in China last year. He also wants to restrict the global development of Chinese telecom giant Huawei Technologies Co., accusing it of acting as a Trojan Horse for Chinese cyber spies.

Italy has not joined the United States in imposing restrictions on Huawei and Di Maio made no reference to the company in his remarks. In an apparent reference to tensions with Washington, Wang said China did not want to see a Cold War.

“A Cold War would be a step backwards,” he said. “We will not let other countries do this for their own private interests, while damaging the interests of other countries.”

Di Maio said he had raised the issue of Hong Kong with Wang, saying its citizens’ rights and freedoms had to be respected.

China unveiled a national security law last month which Hong Kong pro-democracy protesters and the West say breaches the 1984 Sino-British treaty that guaranteed Hong Kong’s autonomy.

Long-term complications of COVID-19 signals billions in healthcare costs ahead

By Caroline Humer, Nick Brown and Emilio Parodi

NEW YORK (Reuters) – Late in March, Laura Gross, 72, was recovering from gall bladder surgery in her Fort Lee, New Jersey, home when she became sick again.

Her throat, head and eyes hurt, her muscles and joints ached and she felt like she was in a fog. Her diagnosis was COVID-19. Four months later, these symptoms remain.

Gross sees a primary care doctor and specialists including a cardiologist, pulmonologist, endocrinologist, neurologist, and gastroenterologist.

“I’ve had a headache since April. I’ve never stopped running a low-grade temperature,” she said.

Studies of COVID-19 patients keep uncovering new complications associated with the disease.

With mounting evidence that some COVID-19 survivors face months, or possibly years, of debilitating complications, healthcare experts are beginning to study possible long-term costs.

Bruce Lee of the City University of New York (CUNY) Public School of Health estimated that if 20% of the U.S. population contracts the virus, the one-year post-hospitalization costs would be at least $50 billion, before factoring in longer-term care for lingering health problems. Without a vaccine, if 80% of the population became infected, that cost would balloon to $204 billion.

Some countries hit hard by the new coronavirus – including the United States, Britain and Italy – are considering whether these long-term effects can be considered a “post-COVID syndrome,” according to Reuters interviews with about a dozen doctors and health economists.

Some U.S. and Italian hospitals have created centers devoted to the care of these patients and are standardizing follow-up measures.

Britain’s Department of Health and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are each leading national studies of COVID-19’s long-term impacts. An international panel of doctors will suggest standards for mid- and long-term care of recovered patients to the World Health Organization (WHO) in August.

YEARS BEFORE THE COST IS KNOWN

More than 17 million people have been infected by the new coronavirus worldwide, about a quarter of them in the United States.

Healthcare experts say it will be years before the costs for those who have recovered can be fully calculated, not unlike the slow recognition of HIV, or the health impacts to first responders of the Sept. 11, 2001 attacks on the World Trade Center in New York.

They stem from COVID-19’s toll on multiple organs, including heart, lung and kidney damage that will likely require costly care, such as regular scans and ultrasounds, as well as neurological deficits that are not yet fully understood.

A JAMA Cardiology study found that in one group of COVID-19 patients in Germany aged 45 to 53, more than 75% suffered from heart inflammation, raising the possibility of future heart failure.

A Kidney International study found that over a third of COVID-19 patients in a New York medical system developed acute kidney injury, and nearly 15% required dialysis.

Dr. Marco Rizzi in Bergamo, Italy, an early epicenter of the pandemic, said the Giovanni XXIII Hospital has seen close to 600 COVID-19 patients for follow-up. About 30% have lung issues, 10% have neurological problems, 10% have heart issues and about 9% have lingering motor skill problems. He co-chairs the WHO panel that will recommend long-term follow-up for patients.

“On a global level, nobody knows how many will still need checks and treatment in three months, six months, a year,” Rizzi said, adding that even those with mild COVID-19 “may have consequences in the future.”

Milan’s San Raffaele Hospital has seen more than 1,000 COVID-19 patients for follow-up. While major cardiology problems there were few, about 30% to 40% of patients have neurological problems and at least half suffer from respiratory conditions, according to Dr. Moreno Tresoldi.

Some of these long-term effects have only recently emerged, too soon for health economists to study medical claims and make accurate estimates of costs.

In Britain and Italy, those costs would be borne by their respective governments, which have committed to funding COVID-19 treatments but have offered few details on how much may be needed.

In the United States, more than half of the population is covered by private health insurers, an industry that is just beginning to estimate the cost of COVID-19.

CUNY’s Lee estimated the average one-year cost of a U.S. COVID-19 patient after they have been discharged from the hospital at $4,000, largely due to the lingering issues from acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS), which affects some 40% of patients, and sepsis.

The estimate spans patients who had been hospitalized with moderate illness to the most severe cases, but does not include other potential complications, such as heart and kidney damage.

Even those who do not require hospitalization have average one-year costs after their initial illness of $1,000, Lee estimated.

‘HARD JUST TO GET UP’

Extra costs from lingering effects of COVID-19 could mean higher health insurance premiums in the United States. Some health plans have already raised 2021 premiums on comprehensive coverage by up to 8% due to COVID-19, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.

Anne McKee, 61, a retired psychologist who lives in Knoxville, Tennessee and Atlanta, had multiple sclerosis and asthma when she became infected nearly five months ago. She is still struggling to catch her breath.

“On good days, I can do a couple loads of laundry, but the last several days, it’s been hard just to get up and get a drink from the kitchen,” she said.

She has spent more than $5,000 on appointments, tests and prescription drugs during that time. Her insurance has paid more than $15,000 including $240 for a telehealth appointment and $455 for a lung scan.

“Many of the issues that arise from having a severe contraction of a disease could be 3, 5, 20 years down the road,” said Dale Hall, Managing Director of Research with the Society of Actuaries.

To understand the costs, U.S. actuaries compare insurance records of coronavirus patients against people with a similar health profile but no COVID-19, and follow them for years.

The United Kingdom aims to track the health of 10,000 hospitalized COVID-19 patients over the first 12 months after being discharged and potentially as long as 25 years. Scientists running the study see the potential for defining a long-term COVID-19 syndrome, as they found with Ebola survivors in Africa.

“Many people, we believe will have scarring in the lungs and fatigue … and perhaps vascular damage to the brain, perhaps, psychological distress as well,” said Professor Calum Semple from the University of Liverpool.

Margaret O’Hara, 50, who works at a Birmingham hospital is one of many COVID-19 patients who will not be included in the study because she had mild symptoms and was not hospitalized. But recurring health issues, including extreme shortness of breath, has kept her out of work.

O’Hara worries patients like her are not going to be included in the country’s long-term cost planning.

“We’re going to need … expensive follow-up for quite a long time,” she said.

(Reporting by Caroline Humer and Nick Brown in New York; Emilio Parodi in Milan and Alistair Smout in London; editing by Michele Gershberg and Bill Berkrot)