Why Italy’s coronavirus death toll continues to spike despite lockdown – and what the UK can learn


As a number of European states scramble to introduce mandatory social distancing and the UK ponders similar measures, governments are looking at Italy’s coronavirus lockdown to gauge how far a democratic state can go to constrain civil liberties when dealing with a medical emergency.  

Italy has been in full lockdown since 9 March, yet its measures are failing to contain the spread of the pandemic. On Thursday, deaths had soared to 3,405, outstripping the toll in China, where the virus first hit.While infections kept on rising, totalling 41,035 cases including 4,440 recoveries, the government extended the quarantine beyond its initial deadline of 3 April and mulled over a harsher crackdown on civil liberties to curb the outbreak. By Friday, there had been 47,021 cases and 4,032 deaths.

“Unfortunately, the numbers of contagions are not going down,” Attilio Fontana, the president of the worst-hit Lombardy region, told Italian media. “Shortly we will not be able to assist those who fall ill.”

Fontana added that the government will have to “change register”, “because if the message was not understood, we will have to be more aggressive in delivering it”.

Democratic countries have resorted to hoping the public will voluntarily comply in a bid to contain the virus while avoiding the enforcement of draconian measures undertaken by autocratic regimes such as China’s, where a system of individual permits coupled with mass surveillance was effective in “flattening the curve” of the contagion.

Italy has adopted measures unprecedented in peacetime to contain Europe’s worst outbreak, effectively testing the limits of democracy in the western world.

Yet, it is considering stepping up its response – including deploying the army – as an estimated 40 per cent of Lombardy residents are still defying government measures.

Andrea Cavaliere, president of the criminal chamber in Brescia, said the government is entitled to enforce harsher measures as long as the right to public health outweighs the right to freedom of movement.

“Everything that is not a necessity can be banned,” Cavaliere told The Independent. “This is because we are not respecting the parameters of the restriction.”



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