On January 31, two Chinese tourists vacationing in Rome were found to be infected with the terrifying coronavirus. This news left the Italian population fearful as well as confused, but no one could even imagine that the worst was yet to come.
On February 21, Italy was swept away with the discovery that 16 Italian citizens in Lombardy and in the Venetian area tested positive for the coronavirus. Since that day, the growth of the positives has been so rapid that on February 23, the Council of Ministers had to declare a “sanitary emergency.”
Italians began to realize the seriousness of the situation and many began to panic after extreme safety measures were taken by the central authorities. The measures included: holding the last days of the fashion week shows behind closed doors; cancelling soccer matches in the red zones; closing schools and universities; establishing restricted opening hours for bars; prohibiting access to places subjected to overcrowding, such as cinemas, libraries, shopping centers, etc.; cancelling the Carnival in Venice; closing the Duomo Cathedral in Milan. In addition, eleven areas in northern Italy have been placed under quarantine and we all have been told to stay at home.
Newspaper articles about the coronavirus, using terms like “slaughter,” have increased the public’s anxiety. There are lines outside supermarkets and pharmacies as people stock up on food, drugs, disinfectants, and masks.
Eight days from the first Italian positives, the scene of the coronavirus has completely changed in Italy. We have now counted a total amount (until today) of 822 cases (the majority in the north), 21 deaths (people with pre-existing conditions), and 45 patients have recovered.
Virologists are also giving some clear directions. Scientists have clarified the following points:
1-Masks are useless because they can’t protect from the virus.
2-Wash hands several times a day.
3-Avoid talking to people at less than two meters of distance.
4-Avoid crowded places.
According to Professor Remuzzi Giuseppe, from the Mario Negri Institute for Pharmacological Research in Bergamo, one of the most famous research laboratories not only in Italy but also in Europe, identified the people most at risk:
1-People over 50 years with severe pre-existing conditions.
2-People whose immune systems are suppressed or compromised.
Professor Pier Luigi Lopalco, the famous epidemiologist from the University of Pisa, was interviewed two days ago on the TV show Piazza Pulita. He said that the coronavirus is a pandemic virus, that the 85% of the Italian positives are as light as a regular flu. But he noted that the risk is related to the speed at which the virus is spreading and that high numbers of hospitalized people are going to collapse the health care system. It’s also important to understand, Lopalco said, that in one month, the coronavirus has infected as many people as would be infected in six years of flu.
On February 28, the Duomo in Milan reopened its doors, but the Region of Lombardy has declared the extended school closings for one more week, until March 9, and the red districts in the north of Italy will continue the quarantine.
People are asking why Italy is counting so many cases. The answer was loud and clear from the Italian scientists: Unlike the rest of Europe, Italy decided to disregarded the general directions for testing, which include those who have traveled to suspected areas or those already exhibiting symptoms of the virus. Instead, the Italian are taking swabs on a wider range of people, even those who are asymptomatic.
Certainly the situation requires Italy to keep the alert high to see the evolution of the virus, keeping track of the numbers infected and deaths. However, people wearing masks are just a few right now, and most Italians are going back to their daily routines.
Top photo of the Duomo Cathedral in Milan by Federica di Cintio