Italy and Britain: a tale of two pandemics?

Peter Stoddart, YCL Student Officer

The critical failure of our government in to Britain in the wake of the Coronavirus becomes more apparent as the days go by. In the initial period of the crisis, much of the British press looked to Italy with shock horror at how the virus had managed to take hold, yet little over a month later, Italy looks to be improving while the UK Government fails to maintain promise after promise.

Italy’s current schedule involves relaxing the lockdown next week, on the 4th May, with people being allowed to visit relatives. This comes as the number of new cases falls to its lowest since 10th March. In the intervening weeks, over 27,000 people have lost their lives, while 200,000 have been infected with the virus. Much of the rhetoric in the UK described the Italian response as haphazard and incompetent, playing on old racial stereotypes of Southern Europeans, yet the death total in the UK has sped past 20,000, and this is before one considers the rapidly increasing number of death in care homes.

Therefore, it is important to discuss what the Italian Government actually enacted, and how it helped them in their battle with the Coronavirus. With the highest death total in Europe so far, to describe the Italian response as a success would be a stretch, however it still offers a useful tool in comparing the collective failures of our governments, and of capitalism itself. In the majority of capitalist states, economic considerations took precedence over public health. In Italy, in late February Italian politicians made a point of publicly shaking hands to show that the economy was still “open for business”. One week later, one of these politicians was diagnosed with Covid-19. Similarly, in the UK Boris Johnson, on several occasions, made a point of highlighting that he was still shaking hands with people. To everyone’s shock, he too ended up in intensive care after catching the Virus.

Where clear differences between the UK and parts of Italy emerge is in testing. In Lombardy, testing was less extensive, and as a result, it failed to contain the virus, becoming the epicentre of the virus, not just for Italy, but all of Europe and potentially the world. Meanwhile, other regions such as Veneto, launched much more rigorous testing procedures as well as contact tracing. This allowed officials to track the spread of the virus and therefore contain its growth. While much of the discussion in the wake of this pandemic has been around lockdowns and exit strategies. The science, which Boris Johnson remains fixated upon supposedly, still shows the importance of testing and contact tracing above all else.

The most crucial failure of both the UK and the Italian government, and indeed the vast majority of policy makers around the world, was the failure to take on information and learn from best practise displayed elsewhere. As Europe faced the brunt of the crisis, China was emerging, yet many European Governments disregarded the Chinese approach to tackle the virus, arguing they must be doctoring figures. Similarly, the example of South Korea and its highly extensive testing procedures contained the virus within weeks.

A final point to highlight in this is the role of the EU. We know the inadequacies of the EU and its lack of care for Europe’s people. In the case of the Coronavirus, this was immediately apparent. In the same way as the unelected European Commission was happy to let people drown in the Mediterranean Sea, and happy for people to go hungry in Greece, so too is it happy to watch people in Italy die, if it maintains the position of capital. Even the EU acknowledge their abandonment in this crisis, offering a “heartfelt apology” for their lack of support, which is about as much use as a clap for healthcare workers without proper PPE …

Peter Stoddart

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