After a stumbling start, the country has gone from being a global pariah to a model — however imperfect — of viral containment that holds lessons for its neighbors and for the United States.
“You look at what’s going on with Italy,” President Trump told reporters on March 17. “We don’t want to be in a position like that.” Joseph R. Biden Jr., the presumptive Democratic nominee, used Italy’s overwhelmed hospitals as evidence for his opposition to Medicare for All at a presidential debate. “It is not working in Italy right now,” he said.
Fast forward a few months, and the United States has suffered tens of thousands more deaths than any country in the world. European states that once looked smugly at Italy are facing new flare-ups. Some are imposing fresh restrictions and weighing whether to lock down again.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson of Britain on Friday announced a delay to a planned easing of measures in England as the infection rate there rose. Even Germany, lauded for its efficient response and rigorous contact tracing, has warned that lax behavior is prompting a surge in cases.
And Italy? Its hospitals are basically empty of Covid-19 patients. Daily deaths attributed to the virus in Lombardy, the northern region that bore the brunt of the pandemic, hover around zero. The number of new daily cases has plummeted to “one of the lowest in Europe and the world,” said Giovanni Rezza, director of the infective illness department at the National Institute of Health. “We have been very prudent.”
And lucky. Today, despite a tiny uptick in cases this week, Italians are cautiously optimistic that they have the virus in check — even as Italy’s leading health experts warn that complacency remains the jet fuel of the pandemic. They are aware that the picture can change at any moment.
How Italy has gone from being a global pariah to a model — however imperfect — of viral containment holds fresh lessons for the rest of the world, including the United States, where the virus, never under control, now rages across the country.
After a stumbling start, Italy has consolidated, or at least maintained, the rewards of a tough nationwide lockdown through a mix of vigilance and painfully gained medical expertise.
Its government has been guided by scientific and technical committees. Local doctors, hospitals and health officials collect more than 20 indicators on the virus daily and send them to regional authorities, who then forward them to the National Institute of Health.