Monday, September 21, 2020

Italy still suffering from COVID-19, but rates are much improved

 How is Italy doing these days with Covid-19 cases? This is a question I’m frequently asked by friends. Even though I did not and will not go to Italy in 2020, I still keep up with the news, and the general answer is “Quite well.” While numbers have been surging in France, Spain and other European countries, new cases in Italy remain relatively low and stable.

Clare Speak, reporter for the Italian newsletter The Local, notes: “While everyone in Italy is no doubt thankful that the feared “second wave”  of contagion has not yet materialised, many are wondering why the country has been less affected while neighbouring France and Spain suffer higher numbers of infections, hospitalisations, and deaths. Italy is now seeing around 1,500 new cases daily, while France and Spain have each reported up to 10,000 cases in a day.”


In terms of the percentage of the population affected, Spain has recorded 292.2 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the last 14 days, while the figure was 172.1 in France, according to data analysis from the European Centre for Disease Protection and Control.  In Italy, the number of new cases as a percentage using this measure is just 33. 

Speak writes that the explanation is likely to be a combination of good testing and tracing systems, strictly-enforced safety rules, and the fact that Italy closed everything earlier and reopened later than in nearby countries. She cites Dr Nino Cartabellotta, a leading Italian public health expert, professor and president of the Gruppo Italiano per la Medicina Basata sulle Evidenza.

“There is no evidence that individual and social behaviors like the use of masks, social distancing, or no gatherings, have been better in Italy than elsewhere,” he told Speak. “The timely, rigorous and prolonged lockdown has worked better here in Italy than in other countries that have hesitated to close, closed less, and reopened earlier.”

He credited Italy’s closure with “reducing mortality, hospital admissions, and the number of new cases to a greater extent than in other European countries.”

Italy and Spain were initially among the worst-affected countries when the coronavirus struck Europe. Both countries put strict lockdowns into place, but infections in Spain have surged since the lockdown measures were fully removed at the end of June. Italy’s currently far lower rate of infections may be partly explained by the fact it simply reopened many things later.

Speak reports that schools in Italy only began reopening on Sept. 14, and in many regions, they’re still closed. Spain reopened schools at the beginning of September, and in France classes gradually restarted from May. Meanwhile the Italian government only relaxed a total ban on spectators at sporting events last week Friday, allowing up to 1,000 fans per game. France allows far larger crowds, with 11,500 per day attending the French Open in Paris.

Italy having a longer and stricter lockdown than other countries gave it an advantage upon reopening, Cartabellotta said. However, he added that Italy “lost some of its advantage” to some “non-virtuous” behavior in the country over summer.

Italy started gradually easing lockdown rules from May, but many restrictions still remain in place, while other rules were added or reinstated over summer amid concerns that holidaymakers were fuelling the spread of the virus. Italy recently announced that rules will not be eased until at least Oct. 31. Italian politicians have attributed the lower infection rate to successful testing and tracing and a reinforced national health system.

“Italy’s national health service has become much stronger,” health minister Roberto Speranza said in August, maintaining that outbreaks are “under control” at current levels, as their origins can be traced.

Those who fear they may have symptoms can get prescription from their doctor for a rapid (and free) test with only a short wait. For those who test positive, their contacts can be traced and tested within days, preventing further spread, partly thanks to adequate coverage of the country’s contact-tracing app.

It is still not possible for Americans to travel to Italy for vacations, and it is unknown when that ban will be lifted. While Lucy and I could return because we have residency, and we usually do go to Montecarlo for a month in the fall, we would have to undergo a 14-day quarantine period. It hardly seems worthwhile to go there for a month and spend half the time in quarantine. We also don’t feel it’s a good idea to spend 15 hours on an airplane and transit through several airports—so for now we will stay put in the United States and follow our own safety procedures. Italy will still be there, and absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Our sealing crew, keeping safe from COVID-19 (and the recent smoke from wildfires).