An image of COVID-19 virus representing the COVID-19 outbreak in Sweden

COVID-19 | The Case of Italy

Italy was the first European country to experience the Covid-19 pandemic on its territory, and as of today, March 30, it is the most heavily affected. Because of this, there is already ample coverage of the Italian case from multiple sources. Nevertheless, and although the country is not part of the FREE network region, we report on the covid-19 crisis in Italy, for two reasons.

Since SITE has a substantial share of Italian nationals in its staffing, following and updating the Italian statistics and measures to parallel the reporting from our core countries is relatively easy.

We intend for our report on Italy to provide a useful benchmark for the policy measures implemented by other countries, as Italy represents the first country hit in Europe and therefore the most surprised and least prepared case.

Basic Facts

Italy is a country of around 60 million people, with capital Rome, around 3 million. Around 10 million live in Lombardy, the region most heavily hit by the pandemic, and 1,3 million in Milan, its largest city. Italy is a founding member of the European Community and part of the Eurozone.

The main responsibility for health care delivery in Italy is at the level of the 20 regions and 2 autonomous provinces, although the central government, through the Health Ministry, oversees and coordinates the national strategy. The whole of the health care system, Servizio Sanitario Nazionale (SSN), which includes several national level institutes and subsidiary bodies on scientific advice plus the regional providers Aziende Sanitarie Locali (ASL) and Aziende Ospedaliere (AO), is among the best in the world for accessibility and cost efficiency, according to WHO and based on the Bloomberg Health-Care Efficiency Index. The responsibility for education is at the national level, divided between the Education Ministry and the Ministry for University and Research. Professional education is instead left to the regions. Social services to the elderly, the disabled, and needy families are dealt with by local authorities, sometimes with the assistance of volunteer associations and non-profit social service cooperatives.

Health Indicators

On January 30, the first two cases of coronavirus were reported in Italy: two Chinese tourists from Wuhan were hospitalized in Rome. They had landed 10 days before in Milan (January 23th).

On February 21, the first local infection was reported at the hospital of Codogno, in Lombardy (a 38 years old man). All the people who were in contact with him (including in the hospital) were contacted, tested and asked to isolate themselves (around 100 persons). Nevertheless, few days later hundreds of cases were reported in the area around Lodi in Lombardy, and in Veneto. The indicators on Covid-19 numbers in the table are from the newspaper Il Sole 24 ore. The numbers of hospital beds are from the NCBI as reported by the Financial Times. The OECD provides statistics on nurses and doctors. Capacity is being expanded in real time during these weeks, but this is not reported in a systematic way, as far as we could see.

Financial and Economic Indicators

As part of the EU and Eurozone, Italy does not have a sovereign monetary policy, but depends on the European Central Bank.

The stock market data is from the Italian Stock Exchange ; we focus on the performance of the main index, called FTSE MIB.

Since February 23, all layoffs of workers were put on hold for two months. There is no current reporting on this, and the latest available data is from before the pandemic and therefore can be seen as unrelated.

Short Summary of Health Crisis Measures

From January 23 (when a flight from Wuhan with 202 passengers was supposed to land in Rome) controls on passengers from Wuhan were started. These included temperature controls with scanners at major airports and mandatory submission of schedules with destinations and travel plans for all the passengers coming from Wuhan. In Rome and Milan airports, posters were put up explaining the typical symptoms of the new coronavirus, encouraging to avoid non-important travels to Wuhan and to get a flu vaccine at least two-week prior departure. The posters also gave typical hygiene recommendations such as hand washing, avoiding contact with sick people or crowded places, as well as contact with animals and raw meat, and recommendation to avoid travel if sick.

Flights to and from China were suspended as soon as the infection was detected in the two tourists, on January 30. As a precautionary measure, the same routines implemented for the SARS epidemic in 2003 were started: the Council of Ministers declared a state of emergency with a duration of 6 months starting January 31, and allocated EUR 5 million to this.

On February 22, through a decree from the central government, 10 Italian towns suspected to be outbreaks of coronavirus were put on lockdown.

On February 29, with over 1000 infected, the regions of Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna closed schools and universities. This was extended to the national territory on March 4, when also public attendance of football matches, cinemas and theatres was suspended for 1 month. The one-meter distance rule, with no hugs and no handshakes, was also introduced.

On March 7 and March 9, the lockdown was subsequently expanded to cover the national territory. On March 21, all nonessential production was stopped to halt the spread of coronavirus. As of March 30, the lockdown was prolonged two more weeks.

Government Economic Policies

Labor Market

  1. All layoffs started after February 23 are put on hold.
  2. Payments of social contributions are put on hold.
  3. Sick-pay restrictions are reduced (12 extra days per month allowed).
  4. Government funding for shortened or suspended working time.
  5. 500€ lump sum benefit for all free-lancers that are not part of safety nets.
  6. Most public and private employers must allow distance work. (Exception are allowed, and the criteria to be used have been hotly debated between workers and industry representatives.)
  7. Parental leave with 50% compensation for all private employees with children younger than 12 for up to 15 days since March 5. Alternatively, up to 600€ bonus for private childcare.

Tax Breaks

  1. Tax payments due between March and May are put on hold.
  2. Tax credits proportional to costs (chiefly rents and sanitation) for commercial activities.

Emergency Loans, Guarantees and Support

  1. Extra funding for repurposing of production towards medical needs.
  2. Loan guarantees, liquidity support and suspension of repayments for SMEs.
  3. Financial support to sports and Alitalia.
  4. Extra funding (400 millions) to municipalities to provide basic support (food stamps) to households with special needs (these are mostly households whose main source of income are jobs in the informal sector, which as such do not qualify for any safety net.)

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed in policy briefs and other publications are those of the authors; they do not necessarily reflect those of the FREE Network and its research institutes.