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Coronavirus Comes for Europe

Italy’s healthcare system is in a state of almost total collapse. As of today, 31,506 people in Italy have been infected with the coronavirus; of which 2,503 people have died. The numbers continue to grow. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Doctors have to choose which sick person to save and which sick person not to save. Pictured: Hospital employees tend to a patient at a temporary emergency structure set up outside Brescia Hospital, in Italy on March 13, 2020. (Photo by Miguel Medina/AFP via Getty Images)

Italy’s healthcare system is in a state of almost total collapse. As of today, 31,506 people in Italy have been infected with the coronavirus; of which 2,503 people have died. The numbers continue to grow. Hospitals are overwhelmed. Doctors have to choose which sick person to save and which sick person not to save.

The country has almost completely shut down. Many businesses are running in slow motion or have stopped. Prisoners are staging uprisings. Millions of people have been ordered to stay home and are allowed out only briefly to buy food. Most shops are shut. All public gatherings are prohibited, even funerals. Big cities look like ghost towns.

No other Western country has been so severely affected by the pandemic as Italy. Why?

First, Italy has an aging population. The median age of Italians is 47.3 years; one in four Italians is over 65. In addition, the country’s birth rate is extremely low: 1.29 children per woman. Even before the coronavirus pandemic, Italy was a dying country. Sadly, the virus has accelerated the process.

Second, the authorities and medical personnel apparently underestimated the danger. Although the Italian government had suspended flights for days from China and Hong Kong from January 31, Italian doctors were saying that the illness was just a “bad flu“. On March 9, an epidemiologist, Silvia Stringhini, wrote: “The media are reassuring, the politicians are reassuring, while there’s little to be reassured of”.

Third, the Italian health system is in appallingly bad condition. There are not enough intensive care units and, as everywhere, the possibility of a major crisis simply was not anticipated. In Italy there are 2.62 acute-care hospital beds per 1,000 residents (by comparison, the number in Germany is 6.06 per 1,000 residents). The Italian health system is entirely run by the government. A public health care service (SSN, Servizio Sanitario Nazionale) pays the doctors directly, limits their number, and sets the maximum number of patients they can treat per year (1,500).

Government-run healthcare always ends up being about the government trying to cut its costs rather than to help its citizens. Private clinics do exist, but represent only a small part of the care offered (the public system represents 77% of total health-care spending. (The only country in Europe where the figure is higher is the United Kingdom, where the figure is 79%.) Public hospitals must manage shortages, and when an exceptional situation occurs, rationing care leads to horrific choices. A recent report by Siaarti (Società Italiana di Anestesia Analgesia Rianimazione e Terapia Intensiva) bureaucratically offers “ethical recommendations for admission and intensive treatment in exceptional conditions of imbalance” and speaks of “consensual criteria of distributive justice” to justify not treating certain patients and leaving them to die.

Fourth, and rarely mentioned, is that Italy today is evidently home to a large Chinese community (more than 300,000), made up of people who arrived in the past two decades and who work in the textile and leather sector. Many of the Chinese living in Italy are from Wuhan and Wenzhou, and some had just been in Wuhan and Wenzhou for the Chinese New Year on January 25, when the Chinese authorities could not hide the epidemic any longer. These Chinese had returned to Italy from China before the Italian government suspended flights from there. The epidemic emerged in Lombardy; Bergamo, one of the capitals of the Italian textile industry, was one of the first cities affected.

Before the pandemic, the Italian economy was already in a state of stagnation; now, as people stay home and shops shut, it will probably plunge into a recession. Italian banks, since mid-February, have lost 40% of their market value. Major financial upheavals seem on the way.

The Italian government was hoping for help from the European Union, but neither the other member states nor the European Union itself has given any at all. Maurizio Massari, Italy’s ambassador to the European Union, said at a recent European summit on the pandemic, that Brussels should go beyond “engagement and consultations”, and that Italy needed “quick, concrete and effective actions”. He got nothing.

Christine Lagarde, president of the European Central Bank, refused to lower interest rates to help Italy; it was a statement Italian leaders took as a demonstration of contempt. Italian President Sergio Mattarella said that Italy expected “solidarity from the EU institutions,” not “moves that could hinder Italy’s actions”. “Italy,” said Matteo Salvini, leader of the Lega party, “has been given a slap in the face”.

The dismissive attitude of the EU and the other members states seems to have been dictated by the fear of sliding into a situation as calamitous as that of Italy.

All European countries have an aging population, even if less than Italy’s (the median age in Germany is 46.8; in France it is 41.2; in Spain it is 42.3). No country in the European Union has taken a clear, hard look at the danger Europe is facing.

“The coronavirus is very contagious,” France’s minister of health, Agnes Buzyn, said on January 26, “but much less serious than we thought”.

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Olivia Kroth
March 19, 2020

Yes, coronavirus haunts Europe bigly. Now we need to travel with a filled out form in France, if we want to leave our homes. The form, issued by the French government, shows the reasons/excuses, why we are allowed to be outside, not at home. If none of our reasons match those on the form, we will have to pay a fine of 300 euros upwards, if the police catches us. This is the French coronavirus bureaucracy.

Reply to  Olivia Kroth
March 19, 2020

how long do they intend to keep that going?

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  Cudwieser
March 19, 2020

They did not say.

Reply to  Olivia Kroth
March 19, 2020

Just carry your own grocery bag wherever you go out, even if not shopping. Alongside a medical emergency or visit to a pharmacy that’s always a valid reason to be out. Unless of course they’re also dictating that you have to grocery shop within a certain radius of your home.

Olivia Kroth
Reply to  TravelAbout
March 19, 2020

They have clamped us down. On the form it says that grocery shopping has to be done in the vicinity of our home.

Olivia Kroth
March 19, 2020

TASS: Russian company creates breakthrough rapid response test to detect COVID-19 — Sistema-Biotech is completing the development of a rapid response test system, which will make it possible to pinpoint the virus in saliva within just 30 minutes, according to the company’s manager — MOSCOW, March 19. /TASS/. In the near future, the Sistema-Biotech company (owned by AFK Sistema) intends to register a rapid response test system with the Russian Federal Service for Surveillance on Consumer Rights Protection and Human Wellbeing (Rospotrebnadzor) that makes it possible to detect coronavirus within two hours, AFK Sistema Managing Partner Artem Sirazutdinov informed TASS.… Read more »

March 19, 2020

With “friends” like that, who needs the EU!

Paul Martin
Paul Martin
March 19, 2020

While we seem intent on keeping tally of current Covid numbers, for a shift in perspective, here’s an overview of pandemics in a visual treatment that is pretty arresting to look at (although I am not sure about the accuracy of some of the numbers)…

The Next Woman To Get Away With Murder

While we sing…trillions in bailouts…2629 infected Italian docs