The Italian Government’s Response to the Coronavirus
In a very short time, Italy became the epicenter for the European coronavirus pandemic. More people have died from the disease than anywhere in the world — including China. On March 27, official reports put the total number of deaths at 9,100.
According to the WHO, COVID-19’s fatality rate is 10% in Italy, while the rest of the world is currently experiencing a little over 3%. Many wonder why the percentage is higher, and if the government’s response plays a role.
Understanding the Fatality Rate
One reason why Italy is seeing a record number of deaths is that its population is older than anywhere else in Europe.
According to the New York Times:
- 23% of residents are 65 or above
- The average Italian is 47 years old (The average American is 38)
Furthermore, The Local reported that patients in their 80s and 90s make up the majority of coronavirus deaths.
Considering this age group is the most at risk, it is understandable that a country with a predominantly older population would experience the highest fatality rate.
A second reason why Italy is struggling during the pandemic is an overwhelmed healthcare system. With so many cases concentrated in different areas, hospitals and medical workers may not be able to keep up with the accelerating caseload.
Lastly, some worry that more mild cases of the coronavirus are going undetected. The lack of testing opens the door for even more widespread transmission because many people may not know they carry it.
Italy formerly held thorough testing for people whether or not they showed symptoms or had contact with individuals with COVID-19.
But on February 25, the country tightened its testing policies to prioritize those showing the most critical symptoms.
Because those with mild symptoms are not being tested or treated, this contributes to the increased mortality rate.
The Italian government faces sharp criticism regarding its handling of the coronavirus outbreak, especially restricting its access to testing.
Rather than restricting travel and closing the borders for the whole country, officials began by closing specific “zones” according to the number of cases in an area.
Rather than getting ahead of the virus and slowing transmission, the government followed the spread, closing zones only after they saw a jump in cases.
It wasn’t until March 11 that the Italian government completely locked down the country and ordered all nonessential businesses, schools, and gatherings to close.
The lockdown led many to frantically leave closed zones to reach home before travel became restricted entirely. This mass movement potentially worsened the virus’s spread even more.
A March 11 commentary about the government’s course of action stated that the response revealed a great deal about Italians’ “behavior, lifestyle, civic responsibilities, and relationship with public institutions,” as many believed that the crisis would not affect them.
Even as the pandemic escalated, many did not feel threatened in the same way that others around the world did.
The information from the government and the media has done little to help citizens’ attitudes. Shifting between pessimistic fearmongering and early signs of a rebound to regularity, concern about the economic challenges compelled authorities to take inadequate measures.
The rapid change in opinion in the face of a growing threat has left Italians confused. Additionally, poor communication between federal and municipal authorities has complicated health care management for critically ill patients.
As governments around the world begin to mobilize their responses for the coronavirus, some are learning from the mistakes the Italian government made, such as providing clear and accurate public information and communicating with local leaders.
The Italian response has not been perfect. However, it has given its citizens a chance to come together — despite social distancing — to uplift each other during a challenging time.
- Firpo, Erica. “Travel – Italy’s Inspiring Response to the Coronavirus.” BBC, BBC, 26 Mar. 2020, www.bbc.com/travel/story/20200325-italys-inspiring-response-to-the-coronavirus.
- Rettner, Rachael. “Why Are Deaths from Coronavirus so High in Italy?” LiveScience, Purch, 27 Mar. 2020, www.livescience.com/why-italy-coronavirus-deaths-so-high.html.
- Varvelli, Arturo. “Uncharted Territory: Italy’s Response to the Coronavirus.” ECFR, 11 Mar. 1970, www.ecfr.eu/article/commentary_uncharted_territory_italys_response_to_the_coronavirus.