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Coronavirus: Massive obituary columns in Italy show extent of tragedy

Simple comparison held up as poignant rebuttal to those downplaying seriousness of pandemic

Andy Gregory
Sunday 15 March 2020 17:59 GMT
Coronavirus: Massive obituary columns in Italy show extent of tragedy

The heavy toll coronavirus has taken on northern Italy has been highlighted in devastating footage of a newspaper’s obituary section.

A reader of the L’Eco di Bergamo – a daily in the Lombardy region where some 10 million inhabitants are currently quarantined – decided to compare the paper’s recent obituary pages to those at the outbreak’s onset.

First, the narrator holds up a copy of the Bergamo paper’s 9 February issue, published when the country had confirmed just three cases. The obituaries section takes up one and a half pages.

He then opens a copy dated 13 March, by which point the number of confirmed infections had risen to more than 17,600 and 1,266 people had lost their lives.

Slowly turning the pages of the local paper, he reveals that just over a month later the number of obituaries takes up 10 full pages.

Giovanni Locatelli shared the video to social media, where it has been viewed millions of times and lauded as a poignant rebuttal to those seen as putting lives at risk by downplaying the seriousness of the pandemic.

“Bergamo’s good ICUs are now pushed to the brink, doing wartime triage, deciding who can be saved. This is real, guys,” Rachel Donadio, a writer for The Atlantic, said in response to the footage.

Entrepreneur Balaji Srinivasan added: “That’s not a bad flu season. Not an imaginary threat. It’s a real thing, which will accelerate further unless arrested with quarantine, drugs, vaccines.”

Italy is the worst-hit European country so far, and the UK government appears to have used the country’s outbreak as something of a benchmark for what our own outbreak could look like.

“Currently we are on a trajectory that looks as though it is about four weeks or so behind Italy and some other countries in Europe,” the government’s chief scientific advisor Sir Patrick Vallance said on Friday, as he revealed there could then have been up to 10,000 people infected in the UK.

However, while Italy has enforced a lockdown across the entire country – which appears to only be tightening a week on from its introduction, with ferries halted to Sardinia and overnight train journeys recently banned – the UK appears to be opting for a less restrictive approach, initially at least.

While the government is set to tell over-70s to self-isolate, an open letter from mathematicians and analysts accused ministers of “risk[ing] many more lives than necessary”.

Whitehall’s approach – which stands in stark contrast to other nations’ – appears to rely on the virus moving through the population at a semi-controlled pace in order to develop herd immunity, although the Department of Health now disputes this.

On Sunday morning, health secretary Matt Hancock said the government would unveil a “cross-party” package of emergency powers on Tuesday, including telling over-70s to self-isolate.

Last week, Italian doctors warned European medics to “get ready” for coronavirus, sending a letter revealing up to 10 per cent of all those infected need intensive care, placing huge pressure on the country’s health services.

An Italian intensive care specialist working in Bologna also told The Independent that UK hospitals should plan now for the influx in patients, stressing some of those who needed care were young and healthy, forcing overwhelmed hospitals to make “difficult choices”.​

However, comparisons with Italy may no longer be truly helpful.

The UK’s cases appear to be more spread out geographically than in Italy, which could place less pressure on health services. Italy is also thought of as having seen more untraced transmissions at the start of the outbreak, placing authorities on the back foot.

Speaking to the BBC, epidemiologist Adam Kucharski criticised simplistic comparisons of case numbers, but warned that “without efforts to control the virus we could still see a situation evolve like that in Italy”, although possibly further into the future than four weeks.

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