Italy avoids Europe's dramatic virus uptick, but for how long?

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Italy is the first western country to be affected by the devastating coronavirus pandemic. Today Italy is an outlier in Europe with limited new cases compared to neighbors.

The question is why and will it take.

While France reported a record of 16,096 new COVID-19 infections on Thursday and Spain reported over 10,000, Italy’s number has been below 2,000 for weeks.

Fewer tests were done – around 120,000 a day versus 180,000 in France – but not enough to explain the big difference in new infections.

Experts largely point to the success of severe and protracted incarceration associated with collective trauma.

Horrible memories of coffins piled up when cemeteries in the north were crowded and ICU beds ran out seem to have kept Italians scrupulous by the rules. Many even wear masks in situations where it isn’t mandatory.

“The epidemic hit Italy earlier … and immediately put in place a very strict containment plan,” Professor Massimo Andreoni, an infectious disease expert at the Tor Vergata hospital in Rome, told AFP.

“Radical Intervention”

The lockdown enforced in early March wasn’t lifted until May, and much more slowly than anywhere else, he said.

Massimo Galli, head of infectious diseases at Sacco Hospital in Milan, agreed and told the daily Corriere della Sera on Saturday that “radical interventions, a longer and stricter lockdown, create a kind of protective effect”.

The World Health Organization cited Italy as an example this week, praising its “clear government advice, strong public support to reduce transmission” and information sharing.

This despite the suggestion by British Prime Minister Boris Johnson that the infections in his country are higher than in Italy or Germany because the British are “freedom-loving”.

Italian President Sergio Matarella replied that Italians also love freedom, but “we also behave responsibly”.

Masks are mandatory in all crowded public spaces between 6:00 p.m. and 6:00 a.m. local time – a precautionary measure welcomed by tourists such as Swede Louis Tietjens, who said he felt “very safe here in Italy” when he saw the Trevi Fountain Visited Rome.

Fiumicino International Airport in Rome became the first in the world to receive five stars from Skytrax’s rating agency for the management of COVID-19, which praised its temperature controls, masks, abundant hand gel and physical distancing.

The country also offers “COVID-free” flights between Rome and Milan for those who test negative.

Companies say they are trying to go the extra mile to prevent infection in their stores or restaurants.

“Fear of the other”

At the Green Tea restaurant in central Rome, just a few steps from the Pantheon, owner Giacomo Rech explained how customers have their temperatures taken on the door, receive hand gel and provide their details so that they can be traced if necessary.

Many schools reopened in mid-September, and since then around 400 have reported at least one case of coronavirus, the daily Sole 24 Ore said. Students with suspicious symptoms must take a coronavirus test before re-enrolling.

Antonio Montegrandi, a general practitioner who specializes in infectious diseases, told AFP that the country’s lower rates of infection may be due in part to Italians “having a tendency to be concerned about their health”.

“And Italian mothers also tend to nag” to ensure that offspring who still live at home – often well into their 30s – take necessary precautions when going out.

Hospitals and research institutes have noted an increase in depression and mental disorders, which can also help limit infection.

Psychologist Gloria Volpato, who works in Bergamo, Italy’s hardest hit area, told AGI news agency on Saturday that she had seen an increase in “fear of each other” in particular, with all contacts viewed as potential contagion risks.

The smallest increase in the number of infections was observed closely.

The biggest concern now is the reopening of schools this week in five southern regions whose start dates have been delayed, as well as the recent admission of fans to football stadiums across Italy – although only 1,000 are allowed per game.

“We will be able to see the impact (next month) and whether Italy will manage to maintain these low levels or if it will join the values ​​of France and Spain,” said Andreoni.

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© 2020 AFP

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