In the Italian Alps, traditional medicine flourishes, as does the Covid

SAN CANDIDO, Italy – For the family of organic farmers nestled on the side of a snow-capped mountain in the province of Bolzano, northern Italy, the coronavirus has not matched the immunizing effects of the pure Alpine air, the invigorating of a good hike and the healing powers of mosses, herbs and vegetables from the forest.

“If someone coughs, we make onion compresses, a thyme and myrtle body cream, and drink a lot of tea,” said Sabine Durnwalder, 37, an unvaccinated resident of the farm in the mountains. picturesque valleys near the border with highly infected Austria. “I know how to protect myself.

Bolzano has traditionally had the healthiest, fittest and most active population in Italy. Today, it is also the area with the highest rate of coronavirus infection. A traditional preference for natural remedies has spread to widespread rejection of vaccines, making it the least vaccinated region in Italy.

Although officials have raised concerns about conspiracy theories and vaccine misinformation being spread by right-wing populists, experts here say that nature-loving and dubious science health enthusiasts are at the heart of the campaign. ‘vaccine skepticism that contributes significantly to an increase in infections, filling hospitals and triggering new restrictions.

“The main reason is their trust in nature,” said Patrick Franzoni, a doctor who is leading the province’s vaccination campaign. “They don’t understand that this is of no help against Covid.”

With around 70% of the province fully vaccinated, Bolzano has the highest number of coronavirus cases per 100,000 population in Italy and the highest share of intensive care unit beds occupied by coronavirus patients. Not all intensive care patients were vaccinated, Dr Franzoni said.

He said many patients arrive at the hospital with advanced cases of the virus, increasing the likelihood that they will die.

Doctors in the region have long complained that they are often late in diagnosing serious illnesses because the local population – who consume the fewest pharmaceutical drugs in the country and have the lowest vaccination rates against tetanus, influenza and hepatitis B – often waiting weeks to call an ambulance.

Organic farm vaccine skeptic Ms Durnwalder argued that living in a virtual wilderness area, residents are essentially not at risk of contracting the virus or passing it on to others. Her main contact with the outside world is with the people who rent apartments on the farm, she said. Then, she said, she wears a mask and keeps her distance.

She was forced to quit her obstetrician job this year when the government mandated coronavirus vaccines for all healthcare workers. Pregnant with a third child, she refused to let doctors immunize her daughters and treated the family with vitamin C, plantain and pine buds.

“If you trust yourself and nature,” said her husband, Markus Burgmann, 39, throwing a snowball for the couple’s dog, “you shouldn’t be afraid.”

Italian and local governments, fearing a destabilizing health situation after a spike in cases, imposed tighter restrictions in the region last week to contain the virus.

The new rules have upset Massimo Galletti, the unvaccinated owner of a store selling herbs, organic foods and other natural remedies in the town of Dobbiaco. He is also a triathlon coach and complained about not being able to get coffee at the local pool cafe. The government, he said, did not realize how much space residents had and how outdoors they were all.

“For the people who live here, not being vaccinated should not lead to restrictions,” he said. “We are different. We live a different life.

His wife, Vroni Baumgartner, agreed.

” I do not smoke. I don’t take medication, ”said Ms. Baumgartner, 56, an environmentalist who cleans up garbage from the local river. “Why should I put something in my body that is not good for me?” “

Many people in Bolzano have German-sounding surnames, as the province was assigned to Italy when the German and Austrian Empires were dismantled after World War I. speaking better German than Italian. Their frequent exchanges with Austria have also emerged as a cause of the recent spike in coronavirus cases in the region.

The wealthy and tidy inhabitants of Bolzano are renowned for their independence and often bristle with the decrees of Rome. This has spread to the mandates of vaccines, especially because an aversion to inoculation runs deep here.

At the beginning of the 19th century, after having conquered the region, Napoleon annexed it and attached it to Bavaria which, in 1807, imposed the smallpox vaccination of its subjects. In 1809, the inhabitants of the region rose up in an armed revolt partly against vaccination, which they believed to have injected Protestantism into their Catholic veins. To sound the alarm, they lit bonfires across the region.

Earlier this month, on the eve of new restrictions on the unvaccinated, hundreds of anti-vaccination activists went back down their story and lit fires and candles in their gardens and balconies.

“We want to show that we have identified a great danger,” reads on Facebook on the page of the local group of vaccine skeptics called Wir-Noi – which means “We” in German and Italian. “May the fire of freedom roam the world. “

The virus also traveled rapidly.

Michele Unterhofer, who runs a hotel in Dobbiaco and is not vaccinated, contracted the coronavirus about a month ago. Like 13 other people he spent a day with recently, only three of them were vaccinated. He said last week that his sister, who had taken her child out of school in disagreement with the coronavirus rules, was home sick with the virus.

As he sat in the hotel bar, where men with white mustaches and green felt hats drank coffee, Mr Unterhofer, 38, said he would temporarily close his hotel to protest the demand government to admit only vaccinated clients.

The requirement is one of a wide range of restrictions that the Italian government has introduced for the unvaccinated in order to persuade them to get vaccinated. In Bolzano, local health authorities tried to lure people to vaccination centers with bread and sausages, and a DJ playing disco music.

“It’s a local saying – the farmer doesn’t eat what he doesn’t know,” said Angelo Dapunt, 65, a former marathon runner and owner of a clothing store in Dobbiaco. “But people who live on farms and stay out in the cold have a stronger fiber, they never even catch a cold.”

He has resisted the vaccination, citing a thyroid problem, and his wife and children are not vaccinated.

But many local residents, trusting science to protect them from the contagion, fear their neighbors could play with fire.

“Here they are convinced that they live in heaven on earth with super clean air and that they do not get sick,” said Adriana Ziliotto, 74, as she bought two platters of pastries at a local bakery. . “But they do.”

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