Italy's hard-hit region nears 'herd immunity' as more than half of people tested show coronavirus antibodies

The northern Italy region hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic seems well on the path to so-called “herd immunity” after more than half of its residents tested positive for COVID-19 antibodies.

Citing a sample survey, health authorities said this week that of the nearly 10,000 residents in the city of Bergamo who had blood tests done between April 23 and June 3, about 57 percent had antibodies, indicating they had come into contact with the virus. Medical staff comprised about 30 percent of those cases.

Albina Minelli, 92, sits on a wheelchair as he she talks from safety distance with her parents, and is flanked by Maria Giulia Badaschi, health director, at the elderly nursing home Fondazione Martino Zanchi, in Alzano Lombardo, Italy, May 29. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

Albina Minelli, 92, sits on a wheelchair as he she talks from safety distance with her parents, and is flanked by Maria Giulia Badaschi, health director, at the elderly nursing home Fondazione Martino Zanchi, in Alzano Lombardo, Italy, May 29. (AP Photo/Luca Bruno)

The new study, conducted by Italy’s National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT), suggests that the province may be heading toward “herd immunity.”

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Herd immunity is the result of enough individuals becoming resistant to disease from previous exposure or via vaccination, Reuters reported.

Italy has been one of the hardest-hit countries, recording more than 235,000 positive coronavirus cases and more than 34,000 deaths. More than 168,000 people have recovered, while currently 32,872 remained positive as of Tuesday.

The Lombardy region, which includes Bergamo, has registered more than 90,000 cases and more than 16,000 deaths, making it the epicenter of Italy’s outbreak.

Italian military trucks and soldiers are seen by Bergamo's cemetery after the army was deployed to move coffins from the cemetery to neighboring provinces, after the cemetery was overwhelmed by the scale of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bergamo, Italy, March 18. Sergio Agazzi.Fotogramma via REUTERS

Italian military trucks and soldiers are seen by Bergamo's cemetery after the army was deployed to move coffins from the cemetery to neighboring provinces, after the cemetery was overwhelmed by the scale of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, in Bergamo, Italy, March 18. Sergio Agazzi.Fotogramma via REUTERS

Bergamo, which reported 13,661 coronavirus cases on Tuesday, became a chilling symbol of Italy’s battle against the virus when a convoy of army trucks was seen removing more than 60 coffins from the city’s overwhelmed cemetery.

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A recent ISTAT report showed the number of deaths in the province was up 565 percent in March compared with the 2015-2019 average for that month, making it Italy’s worst-hit city in terms of deaths.

Health authorities in Bergamo said this week the results of the antibody study were based on a “random” sample which they said was “sufficiently broad” to be a reliable indicator of how many people had been infected in the province.

In a statement, the Bergamo health agency said most of those in the sample were residents of the worst-hit areas.

ISTAT and the Italian health ministry have launched a nationwide campaign aimed at testing a representative sample of some 150,000 people to understand the extent of Italy’s COVID-19 pandemic, Reuters reported.

On Tuesday, Bergamo’s mayor said residents are eager to return to normal life via a “renaissance program.”

Giorgio Gori told reporters his administration created a recovery fund to help families, boost cultural activities and provide financial support to small and medium businesses.

“The city needs now to restart breathing and we’re all at work for its recovery,” he said, according to the Anadolu Agency.

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From left, Laura Capella, Nicoletta Bosica, Stefano Fusco and Arianna Dalba holds pictures of their relatives, victims of COVID-19, as they stand in front of Bergamo's court, Italy, June 10. Members of an association of relatives of COVID-19 victims filed a complaint with prosecutors seeking responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

From left, Laura Capella, Nicoletta Bosica, Stefano Fusco and Arianna Dalba holds pictures of their relatives, victims of COVID-19, as they stand in front of Bergamo's court, Italy, June 10. Members of an association of relatives of COVID-19 victims filed a complaint with prosecutors seeking responsibility for the deaths of their loved ones. (AP Photo/Antonio Calanni)

Meanwhile, about 50 relatives of coronavirus victims have filed complaints at the prosecutors’ office in Bergamo over the handling of the pandemic. It’s the first such group action in Italy, according to the Rai News.

Consuelo Locati, one of the lawyers representing the families, told the news agency that another 200 complaints were being prepared to be submitted as well.