By Massimiliano Menichetti
Prof. Andrea Arcangeli is the Deputy Director of the Directorate of Health and Hygiene of the Governorate of Vatican City State. In this interview, he confirms there are, for the moment, no other cases of coronavirus infection beyond the one identified last Friday.
Q: Prof. Arcangeli, what is the situation regarding Covid-19 inside the Vatican?
So far, only one case has occurred, but it is important to clarify that it was not a resident of Vatican City State or an employee, but a person who had passed through our health and hygiene clinic to undergo medical examinations with a view to being hired. The next day, when symptoms appeared, he went straight to the Gemelli Hospital where he reported he had been in the Vatican the day before. The Hospital then informed us. Following this news, we called a nighttime emergency meeting with the aim of protecting the people who had been in close contact with him. We decided to suspend health care activities and to sanitize the environment with the exception, of course, of the medical emergency room and first aid services available to residents and employees of the Vatican.
Q: Vatican City State is very small, everything is concentrated in a small space. How are you dealing with this situation? Are there any particular protocols?
We have been following the situation with the utmost attention since the first outbreak in the Lombardy Region. We have developed operational protocols for our doctors and nurses and have drawn up behavioral guidelines for residents and employees throughout Vatican City State, referring to the protocols developed by the health authorities of the Italian State, updating them as the situation evolves. As far as the organization of our health services is concerned, we have created a protected route within our first aid service that allows us to filter out people potentially at risk of Covid-19 infection by implementing a dedicated route with the aim of avoiding contact with other people using a mobile first-aid structure, a van parked outside our building.
Q: Can you briefly tell us what practical advice you suggest we follow?
The advice is the same as that which Italian and world health authorities, and doctors specialized in virology and infectious diseases, have been repeating for several days. Hand washing and disinfection are decisive to prevent infection. Hands must be washed with soap and water for at least 30 seconds, or you can use a hydro-alcoholic antiseptic gel. Another fundamental aspect is to avoid close contact with people, staying at least one meter away, so avoid crowded places and situations that may encourage close contact, for example inside an elevator. In addition, we have advised people who experience symptoms like fever and breathing difficulties associated with a dry cough and cold, not to go to the emergency room, but to contact the medical service by telephone and request a home visit. In this case too, the aim is to avoid situations in which contact with other people could spread the infection.
Q: On Sunday, the Pope recited the Angelus inside the Apostolic Palace, before briefly greeting the faithful in St. Peter's Square. Instead of the Wednesday General Audience, he will deliver his catechesis live on video...
Again, this was done in full agreement with Italian authorities. The aim is to avoid crowding and close contacts that could inevitably occur at the security checks carried out by the police. The Holy Father's message will reach us using the means that technology makes available to us.
Q: The Holy Press Office announced the closure of the Vatican Museums. What about the Vatican pharmacy that serves hundreds of people every day. What measures have been taken to protect customers and staff?
Admissions to the pharmacy have already been restricted and limited for several days in order to prevent too many people being present on the pharmacy premises. A limitation on the number of people inside the pharmacy has been imposed. In addition, to protect both our pharmacists and customers, a glass barrier has been erected on the counter to prevent direct contact between pharmacists and customers.
Q: How will the situation change for homeless people who sleep near the Basilica at night?
Basically nothing will change at all. The charity work led by Cardinal Konrad Krajewski will continue to care for them, offering them the possibility to spend the night sheltered from the weather. In this case too, safety protocols are being respected, ensuring there is greater distance between people and trying to avoid close contact. In addition, as it has been doing every morning for a long time now, our Fire Department sanitizes and cleans the areas where homeless people have spent the night. They do this every day and will continue to do so, of course.
Q: Will the employees’ canteen and the Vatican supermarket stay open?
For the moment, yes. The supermarket, in particular, is an important service for Vatican residents and therefore remains open. Again, in this case, similar measures will be taken to control access to the premises of the supermarket and avoid crowding. In practice, many people will exit, and many will be able to enter.
Q: To conclude, could you repeat the best practices?
The best practices are those we have been talking about for many days now, but it is always useful to repeat them: the most important thing is to wash your hands thoroughly with soap and water, which must last at least 20 or 30 seconds, or wash them with a hydro-alcoholic antiseptic gel. Another fundamental aspect is to maintain a distance from people that is greater than one meter. We must try to pay a lot of attention to these rules, changing our habits, our style. For example, the gesture of extending your hand is an instinctive one, we could say innate, but we have to control it. Another example is to use elevators evaluating whether you can maintain the correct distance. Basically, this is the advice we can repeat.