Coronavirus in Italy: Outbreak, measures and impact

Praveen Duddu 23 March 2020 (Last Updated September 7th, 2020 13:15)

Italy, a member state of the European Union and a popular tourist destination, joined the list of coronavirus-affected countries on 30 January when two COVID-19 positive cases were reported in Chinese tourists.

Coronavirus in Italy: Outbreak, measures and impact
Italy has reported the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe. Credit: Shutterstock.com

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Italy, a member state of the European Union and a popular tourist destination, joined the list of coronavirus-affected countries on 30 January when two COVID-19 positive cases were reported in Chinese tourists.

Italy currently has the highest number of coronavirus cases in Europe as well as outside China.

The infections, first limited to in Northern Italy, have eventually spread to all other regions. Many other countries in Asia, the Americas, and Europe traced their local cases to Italy. Many Italian visitors also were diagnosed coronavirus-positive in foreign countries.

Countries with coronavirus traced to Italy COVID-19 infected

Coronavirus-infected in at least 27 countries could be traced the origins to either Italy or Italians.

The countries Austria, Bosnia and Herzegovina, South Africa, Greece, Russia, the Netherlands, neighbour Switzerland, Portugal, Czech Republic, Ireland, Argentina, Ukraine, Iceland, Morocco, Latvia, Jordan, Tunisia, Andorra, Luxembourg, Mexico, Dominican Republic, Lithuania, Nigeria, Denmark, North Macedonia, Romania, and Brazil.

Coronavirus (nCoV): Italy COVID-19 coronavirus cases and deaths

Italy COVID cases reached 59,138 on 23 March, marking the biggest coronavirus outbreak outside Asia. Italy is also the second most affected coronavirus country in the world with the cases increasing at a higher rate than any other country.

COVID-19 Italy death toll reached 5,476, witnessing a sharp increase in the last few days. On 21 March, the country reported the highest deaths of approximately 800 in a single day. Vatican city, home to the Pope and headquarters of the Roman Catholic church, reported its first coronavirus case on 06 March.

The Italian coronavirus cases surged from hundreds to thousands within two weeks, from a few hundred in the third week of February to more than 3,000 in the first week of March and crossed 10,000 on 10 March.

Why coronavirus cases in Italy are high

The high number of coronavirus infection cases in Italy may be explained by the expanding air travel with China.

Italy is the European nation with the highest number of air connections with China after the air connections between the two countries tripled earlier this year.

Italy signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with China in early January 2020 to expand the air links between the two countries in order to expand tourism.

The weekly passenger flights to China were announced to be increased by 108, and by a further 56 through 2021 and 2022.

The Italian government imposed strong measures in the northern regions but not in the rest of the country much earlier. Underestimating how far the coronavirus could reach in the absence of wider measures is evident in the cases recorded pan-Italy.

Coronavirus in Italy: Affected cities and regions

The most coronavirus-affected cities and regions early in Italy are Lombardy, followed by Emilia-Romagna, Veneto, Marche, and Piemonte. Milan, the second most populous Italian city, is located in Lombardy.

Other areas in Italy with coronavirus included Toscana, Campania, Lazio, Liguria, Friuli Venezia Giulia, Sicilia, Puglia, Umbria, Abruzzo, Trento, Molise, Calabria, Sardegna, Valle d’Aosta, Basilicata, and Bolzano.

Within days of stating that coronavirus was just limited to 11 towns in just the northern part of the country, the Italian government realised that it underestimated the situation as the pandemic quickly spread across the country.

Italy is among the worst-affected with coronavirus

An analysis of the coronavirus cases by country per million of population shows that Italy is more affected than China by the COVID-19 corona virus.

Italy was the fourth most-affected coronavirus country after San Marino, Korea, and Iceland as on 06 March.

Coronavirus measures and impact on Italy

Italy is 19th among the top 30 countries receiving airline travellers from high-risk cities from coronavirus in China, according to WorldPop’s preliminary analysis of the nCoV spread.

The Italian government took measures such as screening and suspending major community events during early times of the coronavirus outbreak, and has eventually announced closure of educational institutes and hygiene/disinfection measures at airports.

The Italian National Institute of Health (Istituto Superiore di Sanità) recommended social distancing and acknowledged that the country’s larger aged population poses a challenge.

Many other countries including the US have, meanwhile, advised to temporarily avoid travel to Italy, unless essential.

COVID-19: Italy lock-down

The Italian government announced on 08 March, lockdown (quarantine) of the affected regions in the northern part of the country to avoid spread to the rest of the country.

Within two days, the quarantine was extended to entire Italy, as nCoV cases were detected across the country. The quarantine period will depend upon how soon the number of new cases and deaths will decline.

Italy is the only country that has announced a nationwide lockdown since the Wuhan coronavirus outbreak.

On 22 March, the country ordered the closure of all non-strategic businesses until 03 April to curb the spread of the disease. Only those businesses identified as vital for maintaining the country’s supply chain will remain open during this period. Supermarkets, pharmacies, banking services and other public services such as transport will remain open.

Italy airports feel the impact: Travel restrictions and flight cancellations to China

Italy announced the temporary closure of all to-and-fro air travel with China on 31 January following the detection of coronavirus in a Chinese visitor to Italy.

Italian airlines such as Ryan Air started implementing preventive measures and started asking for declaration forms to be filled by passengers travelling to Slovakia, Poland and Lithuania. EasyJet,

Sports events, schools and universities closed

The Italian government first disallowed fans to sports events until early April in order to avoid possible coronavirus spread. The move reassured safety to players and avoided event cancellations due to coronavirus fears. Within days of the announcement, the government cancelled all sports events due to the epidemic spread calling for an emergency situation.

Sports events in Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia-Romagna, which reported coronavirus-positive cases, were announced to be temporarily suspended.

Schools and universities across Italy have also been ordered to be closed.

COVID-19: Italy to witness impact on tourism

According to preliminary estimates, Italy could lose £6.4bn ($8.3bn) in tourism revenue due to coronavirus.

Associated industries such as hotels and restaurants are likely to see a significant fall in business due to knock-on effects of COVID-19.

With the entire country locked-down, the impact on industries is likely to be much deeper than initial estimates.

Economic impact of COVID-19 on Italy

Italy expects COVID-19 to result in a lower GDP for at least two months. The government has announced a spending allocation of approximately $28.3bn to deal with the coronavirus impact.

REF Ricerche, a research consultancy based in Italy, has projected that the country’s GDP will fall by 8% in the first half of the year due to COVID-19. The think tank also noted that a rebound is possible in the third quarter of the year.