Coronavirus: how Italy withstood the viral catastrophe

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Par Mark Lowen
BBC Rome correspondent

legendIn addition to the “baby drive-ins”, Italy carries out rapid tests in certain airports, stations and schools
Through the car window in front, a little shrill cry from the toddler is heard – softened with a quick pacifier or colorful photo: a distraction aid once the sample is finished. And then the next in a long line of vehicles stops as Rome’s “Baby drive-in” continues at a brisk pace.

The test is for children from newborn to six years old. A result arrives within 30 minutes. If it’s negative, they can go back to daycare or school, even if there is a positive case in their class.

It is the latest innovative initiative from the country which was the first in Europe to be overwhelmed by the coronavirus but which so far manages to control the virus with more success than many others.

Why is Italy going against the trend?

The cumulative number of Covid cases in Italy over the past two weeks is currently just over 37 per 100,000 people, among the lowest rates in Europe. The UK has over 100, France has over 230, and Spain has around 330.

“The months of February and March were very difficult,” says Elisabetta Cortis, one of the pediatricians who founded the drive-thru project. “And then we suffered a lot because with the lockdown we had a lot of problems for the children. They were left alone – no friends, no school, no sports, nothing. “

`` If we allow people and children to have a 'normal' life, I am happy, '' Source: Elisabetta Cortis, Source description: Pediatrician, Image: Elisabetta Cortis

It is, in fact, difficult to determine exactly why Italy is going somewhat against the tendency of European countries to experience an alarming spike in cases.

Its testing rate is not exceptionally high – the UK performs Italy’s tests more than three times – but swabs are widely available and rapid tests are now in place at some airports, stations and schools, he So there is no sign of any test access problems that have been observed in the UK and elsewhere.

The most likely explanation is a combination of factors: effective testing and tracing, a longer lockdown – Italy was the first country in the world to shut down nationally and among the slowest to reopen – and the fact that the trauma of the first weeks of the pandemic was scary. Italians with general respect for the rules.

“I feel much safer than in England”

At Tonarello, a pasta restaurant in the Roman quarter of Trastevere, several measures are in place, including plexiglass screens between tables, recording of customer details for contact traceability and disposable paper menus. Some other restaurants and cafes use digital QR codes to access menus on smartphones.

All servers wear masks and customers should do so when they are inside and not eating. This is not unusual: Mask wearing has been scrupulous here since the start of the epidemic, mandatory indoors and recently enforced in busy outdoor areas in some areas that have seen an increase in infections, such as Rome. Those who break the rules on wearing masks or large public gatherings face fines of up to € 3,000 (£ 2,700).

Strict adherence has allowed restaurants to remain open and largely free from the early closings imposed in some other European countries. Many here have suffered financially from the lockdown – but Tonarello is busy.

Patrizia Corrias has lunch with her two daughters before they return to Britain where they are at university.

“I feel a lot safer here than in England,” she says. “I see around me that everyone wears masks and follows the rules, avoiding hugs for example. “

legendPatrizia Corrias believes Italians have been hit so hard they understand the need to follow strict restrictions

Why, I ask, does she feel the stereotype of obedient Britons and rebellious Italians has been turned around?

“We were the first,” she says. “We had a very long quarantine and we really felt it. Many, many people were dying. And all these people dying alone – it was very strong. “

British exceptionalism

Prime Minister Boris Johnson recently raised the issue of national character in parliament, when a Labor MP asked him if he thought better testing and tracing were the reason why Italy and Germany outperformed the United Kingdom. United in virus management.

“No, I don’t,” he replied, adding that the difference between Britain and the rest is that “we are a freedom loving country”.

It was not bright here, where memories of Italy’s struggle for independence and its struggle for liberation from Nazi occupation are still deeply ingrained.

“I can smile a little at the words of Boris Johnson,” said Pierpaolo Sileri, Italian Deputy Minister of Health.

“When you play by the rules, there is freedom. If we are now free to do most things, it is because we have been very strict with the rules. “

`` I am proud of the Italians because they followed the rules - but the war is not over yet.  We have yet to see what will happen in October, November and winter, '' Source: Pierpaolo Sileri, Description of source: Italian Deputy Minister of Health, Image: Pierpaolo Sileri

Mr Sileri’s suspicion of alarm over the next few months stems in part from the fact that Italy was one of the slowest countries to reopen schools – and that only now is the hot summer starting. to rupture, cold weather resulting in increased risk of contagion.

It is therefore possible that Italy, ahead of the rest of Europe when Covid arrives, is behind the curve as its neighbors struggle against a peak.

But for now, the numbers look promising. And this simple formula – tests, rules, compliance – this country hopes will stop a second wave and ease the legacy of pain from the first.

media legend“We risked everything to survive” – ​​Filomena, inhabitant of Naples

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