Coronavirus: Italy’s death toll now highest in Europe

Italy has become the worst country in Europe for deaths from COVID-19, overtaking the United Kingdom, as anger mounts over the Italian governments handling of the virus crisis. Overall deaths in Italy hit 63,387 on Friday, according to a tally by the Italian government reported by The Times, surpassing the British death toll by more than 300.
With 60 million residents, Italy’s population is smaller than the UK’s 60.6 million.
According to the World Health Organisation, there have been 1036 virus cases per million residents in Italy, which puts it in second place globally behind Peru.
Italy, which was the first country outside China to be hit by the virus, went under a tough, 10-week national lockdown in March but has avoided a full lockdown in the second wave.
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Instead, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has opted for a three-tier system that divides regions of the country into red, orange and yellow categories, depending on the severity of local outbreaks. A 10pm to 5am curfew still applies to the entire country.
There has been criticism levelled at the Italian government’s response as intensive care wards became overwhelmed when the second wave began to sweep the country in October.
Italian microbiologist Andrea Crisanti told The Times the government should have performed better in the more recent outbreak given the devastating toll it experienced in the first wave.
“Italy’s first wave was bad luck but the second wave, which has killed 25,000, was unforgivable,” he said.
“A sign of poor management and amateurish preparation.”
Experts have suggested the second wave in Italy was set off by young people returning with the virus from summer holidays abroad and infecting their parents and grandparents.
Infections began rising again in September and October, and the three-teired restrictions began in November.
Matteo Villa, research fellow at Milan’s Institute for International Political Studies, said the Italian government didn’t act soon enough.
“If you look at France and the UK, you can see Italy did fare much worse,” he told the Los Angeles Times.
“And if you look at a comparable population with similar demographics, which is Germany, Italy did a lot worse.”
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Prof Crisanti told The Times better tracing methods could have suppressed the second wave.
“Italy was down to 150 new cases a day in the summer and things could have been contained with better track and tracing, but that didn’t happen,” he said.
“Countries like Taiwan and Singapore didn’t beat COVID with mask wearing alone but with better planning.”
It comes as the World Health Organisation (WHO) has been accused to colluding with the Italian health ministry to remove from its website a report that detailed Italy’s “chaotic” early response to the pandemic.
The report, called An Unprecedented Challenge: Italy’s First Response to COVID-19, was published on the WHO website on May 13 but taken down the next day, The Guardianrevealed this week.
WHO did not make a public statement at the time to address the report being pulled from the website.
Produced by experts from WHO and across Europe, and funded by the Kuwait government, the 102-page document was intended to guide countries that were yet to be hit by the pandemic.
It went into detail about Italy’s response to the crisis and noted its pandemic plan had not been updated since 2006.
“Unprepared for such a flood of severely ill patients, the initial reaction of the hospitals was improvised, chaotic and creative,” the report said.
The Guardian reports the document was pulled from the WHO website at the request of the organisation’s assistant general director for strategic initiatives, Ranieri Guerra, who is also part of the Italian government’s COVID-19 task force.
Dr Guerra served as the director general for preventive health at Italy’s health ministry between 2014 and late 2017 and was responsible for updating the country’s pandemic plan, it said.
The outdated plan is a key element in investigations by prosecutors investigating possible criminal negligence by authorities in Bergamo, in Italy’s Lombardy region, which was devastated early in the pandemic.