By Eric J. Lyman
ROME – Italy and the United States are a contrasting study in how they faced the pandemic.
Italy was the first hard-hit country after the virus spread beyond China’s borders and after a few initial missteps, the country has taken decisive action. Italy’s national lockdown was the first in peacetime Europe and it was stricter and lasted longer than in other countries. The rules were tightly enforced by the police with the power to impose fines.
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Executives followed the same mask and social distancing guidelines as everyone else, as factories in Italy began manufacturing ventilators, masks and other protective gear. Whenever a cluster of cases appeared, the area was quickly quarantined and the sick treated by a free public health system.
More importantly, the Italians overwhelmingly followed the rules.
“In Italy we may have a reputation as a nation of disorganized rule breakers, but the truth is that people tend to take the advice of their doctors,” said Giovanni Sebastiani, researcher and member of the Italian National Council. of research. “Our lockdown was long, we only reopened in measured stages, and almost everyone did what they were supposed to.”
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Italy, a country of 60 million people, was the first in the world to have 200,000 official cases of coronavirus (April 28) and the first to record 30,000 deaths (May 7). But by the end of May, the daily infection rate fell from more than 5,000 to triple digits – and for the most part it stayed there until last month.
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Now, as is the case in most countries in Europe, COVID-19 infections in Italy are on the rise again and the country surpassed 10,000 new infections on Friday, breaking its daily record for positive tests. The World Health Organization has warned the virus is quickly spiraling out of control in Europe and the region has reached a tipping point to contain a second wave of coronavirus.
In recent days, daily infection rates have climbed to over 14,000 in Spain, nearly 20,000 in the UK and almost 30,000 in France – all well above their spring peaks. The United States has recorded an average of 50,000 to 60,000 cases per day since early October, according to the COVID Tracking Project. The United States has recorded approximately 8 million cases and more than 217,000 deaths.
Yet earlier this month German Chancellor Angela Merkel – Germany is the main European country most successful in limiting the spread of the virus – warned her compatriots against vacations in high-risk regions of ‘Europe. But she said there was no problem for them to travel to Italy, where she said the government “has acted with great caution”.
‘Look in disbelief’
Meanwhile, Italians shook their heads at reports from the U.S. The politicization of mask-wearing, uneven enforcement and enforcement of coronavirus rules from state to state, non- adherence to health guidelines on beaches, parks and political gatherings and the way President Donald Trump handled his own case of COVID-19 while downplaying the severity of the disease were all difficult for many Italians to understand.
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“Italians have always admired the United States, but what is happening now makes us look with disbelief,” said Flavio Chiapponi, a political scientist at the University of Pavia in northern Italy. “In the early days of the pandemic, we learned our lessons by trial and error, which is why it hit us so hard.
“We were hoping that other countries would learn from what we went through, but that has not happened in many countries, including the United States,” Chiapponi said.
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has promised the country will not face another national lockdown.
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“We are much better prepared now than we were in March and April,” said Giorgio Palu, professor emeritus of microbiology at the University of Padua and former president of the European Society of Virology. “Hospitals are prepared and testing is much more widespread. We understand what we are dealing with. “
Many in Italy believe that inadequate testing in the first few weeks resulted in a massive undercoverage of cases, which means rates in March and April would exceed current rates.
This week, the government introduced new restrictions on social events at home, restaurants, school activities and even weddings. Earlier this month, a decree was passed requiring the use of the mask even outdoors and away from others. The coronavirus state of emergency first put in place on January 31 has now been extended until its one-year anniversary, giving authorities the power to quickly lock down neighborhoods or towns when warranted .
‘We must continue’
The vast majority of Italians agree with wearing a mask, according to a survey released over the summer by Imperial College London. This research showed that around 85% of Italians said they were “very” or “very” willing to wear a mask if advised to do so, the highest rate among the European countries studied.
As the infection rate increased from September, cafes and town squares were buzzing with the news. But cautiously optimistic residents said they had not lost faith in the government.
“I have a feeling the country’s leaders have sent a clear, united and cohesive message on the coronavirus, unlike the situation back home,” said Molly Gage, a mother of two originally from Pittsburgh but based in Rome since. 13 years. “In Italy, the pandemic is being treated as a public health problem, that’s what it is. It’s hard for everyone, but one thing that makes it a little easier is knowing that whatever can be done here is being done.
Alessandra Bernero, an office worker with COVID-19 for four weeks in March and April, had a similar point of 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 relaxed a few months ago than I am now, but I know we are paying attention and taking the issue seriously. We have to keep going until the virus is gone or there is a vaccine.