Written by Eric J. Lyman
Rome – Italy and the United States are a paradoxical study when it comes to the way they faced the pandemic.
Italy was the first country hit hard after the virus spread outside China’s borders, and after some early hiccups, the country took decisive measures. The national lockdown of Italy was the first of its kind in Europe during times of peace, was tougher and lasted longer than those in other countries. The rules were closely enforced by the police with the authority to impose fines.
Leaders followed the same mask and guidelines for social distancing as everyone else, as Italian factories began manufacturing ventilators, masks and other protective equipment. Whenever a cluster of cases appeared, the area was quickly isolated and the patients cared for with a free public health system.
Most importantly, Italians overwhelmingly followed the rules.
“In Italy, we might be famous for being a disorganized nation of outlaws, but the truth is that people tend to follow the advice of their doctors,” said Giovanni Sebastiani, researcher and member of the National Research Council of Italy. “Our lockdown was long, we only reopened it in calculated stages, and almost everyone did what they were supposed to do.”
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Italy, with a population of 60 million, was the first country in the world to have 200,000 official coronavirus cases (April 28) and the first country to record 30,000 deaths (May 7). By late May, the daily infection rate had dropped from more than 5,000 to fewer than three numbers – and for the most part, it had stayed there until last month.
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As in most countries in Europe, COVID-19 infections in Italy rose again, and the country passed 10,000 new infections on Friday, breaking its daily highs for positive tests. The World Health Organization has warned that the virus is rapidly getting out of control in Europe, And that the region has reached a turning point to contain the second wave of the Coronavirus.
Daily infection rates have risen to over 14,000 in Spain, around 20,000 in the UK and nearly 30,000 in France – all well above their peak since spring. The average number of cases in the United States has reached 50,000 to 60,000 per day since the start of October, according to The COVID Tracking Project. The United States has nearly 8 million cases and more than 219,000 deaths.
This month, German Chancellor Angela Merkel – Germany is the main European country with the most success in curbing the spread of the virus – warned its citizens against taking holidays in high-risk areas of Europe. She said there was no problem for them to travel to Italy, as she said the government had “acted very cautiously”.
“Watch in disbelief”
The Italians shook their heads upon news reports from the United States. The politicization of wearing masks, uneven enforcement and enforcement of coronavirus rules from state to state, disregarding health guidelines at beaches, parks and political rallies and the way President Donald Trump handled his own case of COVID-19 by minimizing the severity has been difficult for many Italians Understanding the disease.
“Italians have always looked at the United States, but what is happening now makes us see disbelief,” said Flavio Ciaboni, a professor of political science at the University of Pavia in northern Italy. “In the early days of the pandemic, we learned our lessons through trial and error, which is why we have been so hurt.
“We had hoped that other countries would learn from what we went through, but this did not happen in many countries, including the United States,” Chiaboni said.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte pledged that the country would not face another national lockdown.
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“We are now much more prepared than we were in March and April,” said Giorgio Ballou, professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Padua and former president of the European Society of Virology. “The hospitals are ready, the tests are widespread. We understand what we are dealing with.”
This week, the government imposed restrictions on social events at home, restaurants, school activities, and even weddings. A decree was passed this month to use masks even outside and away from others. The Coronavirus emergency imposed on January 31 has been extended until its first anniversary, giving authorities the power to quickly close neighborhoods or towns when necessary.
“We have to continue.”
The majority of Italians agree to wearing masks, according to a survey published by Imperial College London over the summer. About 85% of Italians said they would be “very” or “completely” willing to wear a mask if they recommend it, the highest rate among the European countries surveyed.
As the infection rate soared in September, cafes and city squares were bustling with news. Cautiously optimistic residents said they had not lost faith in the government.
“I feel that the country’s leadership has sent a clear, unified and consistent message about the Coronavirus, unlike the situation at home,” said Molly Gage, a mother of two who originally hails from Pittsburgh but has lived in Rome for 13 years. “In Italy, the epidemic is treated as a public health issue, and it is what it is. It is difficult for everyone, but the only thing that makes it a little easier is knowing that everything that can be done here is being done.”
Alessandra Bernero, an office employee who was sick with the COVID-19 virus for four weeks in March and April, had a similar view.
“When I wake up, the first thing I do is search my phone for the latest information on infections, deaths and hospitalizations,” she said. “I was more comfortable two months ago than I am now, but I know that we are paying attention and taking the problem very seriously. We have to keep up with that until the virus is gone or there is a vaccine.”