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Coronavirus in Italy: Coronavirus nightmare in Italy provides a preview of what’s coming | World News


ROME: In Rome, the first signs of change came from above. Just before cocktail hour on Monday, a helicopter noise could be heard over the winding lanes of the 2,000-year-old historic center. Police guarded the Trastevere neighborhood, where smoke was pouring out of prison windows as inmates rioted, protesting the tight conditions that put them at risk for coronavirus infection.

Around the same time, the stock market opened in New York, ushering in a week that was to become the worst defeat since 1987. A few hours later, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte gathered journalists for a press conference. televised in prime time. The rules that only 48 hours earlier had been imposed in Milan, Venice and other northern cities (travel was restricted, schools were closed and even the opera was suspended) would extend to the entire country. The eighth largest economy in the world, with more than 60 million inhabitants, went into virtual quarantine.


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It was like flipping a switch. In just a few days, a western democracy moved from Aperol Spritz to closure, as the outbreak spread from a northern to a national crisis, now with more than 15,000 known infections and more than 1,000 deaths, second only to China.

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For those lucky enough to not be experiencing the Italian running of the bulls, pay attention: what is happening in Milan, Florence and Rome offers a preview of what will come to New York, London or Paris in a week or two. Consider this our letter that we sent you from Italy, written from the isolation of our sofas and dining tables, with a sample of what to expect.

Whether it’s closed stores, civil unrest, or the coronavirus itself, it will be difficult to avoid the trauma Italy has experienced in the past three weeks. President Donald Trump blamed the outbreak of a “foreign” virus on Wednesday when he announced restrictions on European travel to the United States. But it’s already there, in Seattle, New Rochelle and places not yet detected.

The Prime Minister took to Twitter with the hashtag #iorestoacasa: “I’m staying home.” While snuggling up in your kitchen or bedroom makes epidemiological sense, it’s terrible for bars, boutiques, and pizzerias. On Tuesday night, when the street lights flickered, a pizza sprinkled with flour came out of a restaurant near Piazza Navona while his boss taped posters on the window declaring the place closed. “‘Stay home,’ they said!” the pizzeria screamed. “Well now we’re going to stay home. We’re closed.”

Similar scenes are unfolding from the Italian boot to the toe. Northern hospitals are approaching the limits of their ability to care for those whose lungs are being devastated by the disease. The Rialto Bridge in Venice, usually packed with tourists with selfie sticks, is empty. Dolomiti Superski, the largest ski resort in Europe, has closed its lifts for the season despite the slopes buried under more than five feet of snow. In Naples, trucks that look like they were taken from “Blade Runner” go through Piazza del Plebiscito spraying the cobblestones with disinfectant.

The unfolding financial crisis is deeply intertwined with what happens in shoe stores, ice cream parlors and hospital wards. Unlike the last financial contagion, which largely came from the banking system, this is a shock to the entire economic corpus. As business stalls, the country risks a ripple effect of unpaid bills and loans that threaten to spread worldwide.

“Basically, it’s a case of a natural disaster,” Philipp Hildebrand, vice president of money manager BlackRock Inc., told Bloomberg TV. “If they don’t have clients for a couple of weeks, it becomes very difficult to pay their debt, it becomes difficult to pay the rent.”

Italy on Wednesday announced measures worth up to 25 billion euros ($ 28 billion) to cushion the pandemic’s hit. These include help for companies whose turnover has plummeted, a moratorium on some mortgage payments, and support for workers facing temporary layoffs and parents who must stay home to care for children when schools are closed.

On Thursday, the president of the European Central Bank, Christine Lagarde, unveiled her own stimulus package, but rejected the reduction in interest rates. When Lagarde said, “We are not here to close the spreads,” the Italian bond market plummeted and yields soared to their highest level.

Hildebrand’s comparison with a natural disaster is adequate. This is not like a sovereign debt crisis, a credit crisis, or even the invasion of Iraq. The only thing that comes close is apprehension in the face of a hurricane. As anyone who has spent a lot of time in Florida can attest, you know it’s coming, but you don’t know exactly when or where it will hit or how bad it will be. So he deposits the supplies and makes sure his Netflix subscription is paid for, and when he arrives he won’t go out because he could be killed by flying debris. This is how Italy feels.

In a televised speech Wednesday night, Conte tightened things up even further, ordering virtually all retailers other than supermarkets, pharmacies, and gas stations to close until March 25. Factories can operate and public transportation, banks, and the postal service will continue, but restaurants, cafes, and bars are closed.

With each passing day, Italy has become increasingly isolated from the outside world. Neighbors have stopped at border crossings that for the past two decades have allowed unrestricted passage under European Union rules. Austria and Slovenia are restricting entry to those who tested negative for the virus, and Switzerland has closed nine minor crossings. On Thursday, Italians woke up to the news of Trump’s ban on most travel from Europe.

Regardless of the form the landing takes, from financial to epidemiological, the Italian experience has made one thing clear: when those shocks occur, they will appear to have arrived overnight.

As recently as last Friday, tourists had largely left Rome, but for locals, life went on enthusiastically. The restaurants were so full that the waiters could barely pass the diners. Shoppers were pushed for hot bianca pizza in bakeries. A butcher in Campo de Fiori was so crowded that customers needed to take a number.

Then, early in the morning, Saturday through Sunday, Conte announced the northern restrictions, and on Monday Italy became the first democratic country since World War II to impose a national blockade. Two weeks ago, it seemed like a big deal when cases topped 1,000. Now that number looks picturesque.

The outbreak that started in China in late January reached more than 80 countries and territories, closed cities, disrupted trade and supply chains, and shook financial markets. With Europe facing the prospect of a recession, Italy is at the center of it all. The country’s public debt amounts to about 2.4 trillion euros, almost 135% of the gross domestic product.

Banks in other EU countries have almost 450 billion euros in Italian sovereign debt. If the country collapses and those Italian properties collapse in value, it would shake the foundations of the EU banking system. European banks are concerned that the crisis could turn into a global collapse like 2008. Their concern is that a virus-induced shutdown could spark a wave of defaults among the small and medium-sized companies that make up the economic backbone of countries like Italy. and Germany That would wipe out lenders’ profits and potentially consume much of the capital that regulators require them to set aside for a rainy day.

The embattled Italian economy was already vulnerable to the economic impact of the virus, “a bit like an immunocompromised patient,” says Rosamaria Bitetti, an economist at LUISS University in Rome. And like that patient, a sneeze and deaf Italy puts the rest of the world at risk. “The impact could be systemic for all of Europe and beyond,” says Bitetti.

It is a danger that begins with people like Rossella Rocco. After eight years studying and working in Rome, in December, the 29-year-old hairdresser moved to Corigliano-Rossano, a city of 77,000 inhabitants in the southern region of Calabria. With state funds offered to young entrepreneurs starting businesses in the south, he rented a store in the central plaza that he equipped with a pair of sinks and three lounge chairs.

But now, just a month before its planned opening, the pandemic has hit, and the city is receiving its first cases in recent days. Even if customers show up, under the latest decree you will be prohibited from letting them in. Compare the experience with waiting for a tidal wave. “We are preparing for the impact: if people do not leave the house there is no business,” says Rocco. “I am trying to stay positive, but this is devastating.” Companies like mine cannot survive without people. ”

Italy offers key lessons for the rest of the world: set strict rules, fast, and make sure your message is clear. For weeks, Conte resisted demands from his government and opposition leaders for strict containment measures. Then, abruptly, he made his dramatic leap by circling the north and closing the entire country. And the media leaks from the first decision, sealing the north, caused confusion, even panic, prompting thousands of people to rush to trains to escape, and prompted southern regions to order quarantines for arrivals of the most affected areas.

Some economists say Italy’s early outbreak could prove a short-term bump in business worth stopping to stop human and financial butchery. “Italy is a forerunner of what will happen in the United States and in Europe because of the speed at which the virus spread,” says Nathalie Tocci, director of the Institute of International Affairs in Rome. “Germany is on the same trend as Italy, but two weeks ago.”

In another preview of what the United States might face, the broad powers wielded by Italian regions, including health policy, led to delays in responding to the outbreak and discussions about travel limits. Most Europeans are enraged by restrictions on the scale of those imposed in China. “Italy’s weakness is the price to pay for an open society in a liberal democracy,” says Giovanni Orsina, director of the LUISS school of government.

Beyond financial risks, there are those that can be truly terrifying for anyone, anywhere – violence and disease. The upheaval in Trastevere was not unique. Prisoners in at least two dozen facilities across the country rioted, leaving 12 prisoners dead, apparently from drug overdoses after raiding the jail’s pharmacies.

So far, however, Italian officials have insisted that there is little risk of civil unrest or that the government will fall due to the emergency. Of course, any prediction is difficult to make since infections have not yet peaked. Just a week ago, skiers were still booking Italian vacations and American college students were traveling in Europe.

The nightmare scenario is the collapse of healthcare facilities in northern Italy, where hospitals expect shortages of intensive care beds, ventilation machines, and respirators. A rapid spread of the virus through the poorer south could expose the weak link in the national health system: a study by the health ministry says that care in some southern regions is poor.

This is where a now famous graph called “flatten the curve” comes in. The graph circulating on social media, illustrating the thinking behind Italy’s extraordinary measures, shows two scenarios for any country, region or city. In one, cases increase in the second, represented by a flatter curve on a graph, the same number of infections spreads over time due to “social distancing,” such as school closings. A horizontal line represents the number of cases that the local health system can handle at any given time. The flatter curve remains below the line, but the spike stage goes above it, which means there are not enough beds or respirators for patients who need them. That is what Italy is trying to avoid.

For now, critical hotspots in the north appear to be staying just below the line, in part by bringing in new equipment and, in recent days, moving intensive care patients with non-coronal conditions to more remote hospitals.

But Italians are preparing to make tough decisions: On March 6, the National Society of Anesthesiology and Intensive Care released recommendations to address “exceptional conditions of imbalance between needs and available resources” in admissions. Considerations for possible triage include the patient’s age and possibility of survival

It is no wonder that some Italians, especially older ones, feel scared. On a recent morning in a Rome supermarket, a woman who appeared to be in her 70s exploited, more terrified than angry, a man of a similar age behind her, in violation of a new rule requiring at least one meter. between people in public spaces. Taxi drivers who wear masks and scarves around their faces are balancing the risk of infection with paying for their car.

That fear has led to a sudden boom in grocery delivery services. The day after Conte announced the national shutdown, the entrances to Rome’s supermarkets were filled with emails from bicycles, mostly immigrants from Africa and South America, struggling to receive orders. By then, Milan had grown accustomed to a home delivery routine that had left residents waiting more than a week for a stall to buy groceries.

For Italians, it’s just another sign that the ingrained rhythms of everyday life had to give way, from the cappuccino in the bar in the morning, to a snack in the square after work, to a pizza with friends in the evening.

Sacrifice is not fun and limits the tragic: weddings and funerals are prohibited, birthday parties are postponed, teachings are derailed and companies fail. But our friendly advice is that when this virus reaches you, the sooner you accept the need to get into the block, the better

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