If Italy was the first European country to be devastated by the first wave of Covid-19 at the end of March, it was also the first one to successfully implement a national lockdown. By mid-June, it managed to retrieve some sense of normality. Though the second wave has not spared the country, are the Italian authorities better managing the situation this time around? We asked 3 questions to Stefania Boccia, professor of Hygiene and Public Health at the Università Cattolica del Sacro Cuore (UCSC) in Rome.
What lessons can be drawn from the management of the epidemic and how does this lesson guide the current choices of the government?
Although Italy was the first country to be affected by Covid-19 in Europe, which heavily impacted the National Health System, the Italian response was well coordinated. We should remember that SARS-CoV-2 is a new virus and we initially had no experience in fighting it, so it was challenging to implement a rapid and effective response from the get go. During the summer months, in large parts of the national territory, healthcare facilities were strengthened, intensive care units were increased and a stronger response to the virus was prepared. As such, in the second wave, the country’s response was more rapid and effective, albeit with some shortcomings that can still be found in some regions - let’s not forget that, in Italy, the health system is regionally organized, meaning that each region can decide independently which interventions to implement. We can now also rely on a much greater awareness, not only among scientists and medical professionals, but also from policy-makers and citizens. This obviously helps to better manage the crisis, as knowledge of the phenomenon at all levels is essential to stem the spread of contagion. In November, localized lockdowns were implemented, thus avoiding generalized closures that might have damaged not only the economy, but above all the psychophysical health of citizens. In this perspective, on the basis of the experience of the first wave, it was possible to define a set of 21 healthcare indicators that guided policy decisions on the establishment of containment measures across Italy. The pandemic is far from over, as can be attested by the new increase in cases and deaths. Therefore, we must not underestimate the course of the pandemic and continue to implement and strengthen all the necessary measures.
What are the strengths of the Italian’s government strategy to fight the spread of the virus?
Italy has one of the oldest populations in Europe, which is one of the reasons for the high number of deaths in the country. However, we implemented a series of measures to protect the elderly, especially in nursing homes. In these places, stringent measures included patient visits, forbidding or limiting the time while strictly maintaining a safe distance and the use of masks, and staff management, frequently testing operators working in these facilities, and rapidly isolating positive cases. In addition, the communication campaign has been important to protect this part of the population, especially during this Christmas holiday period. The best gift we can give them right now is to keep our distance, take all precautions and avoid kissing or hugging.