Apart from a select few businesses—grocery stores, pharmacies, gas stations, manufacturers of surgical masks, hand sanitizer and latex gloves, and, with all the talk of social distancing, perhaps chatbot agencies—everything is coming to a screeching halt as the world attempts to stave off the novel coronavirus pandemic. Italy was the first Western country to impose a dramatic national lockdown, under which citizens are not allowed to leave their homes unless it is for an essential purpose like buying food, medication or petrol.
As of this writing, Italy has 35,713 confirmed cases of coronavirus. At least 4,207 Italians have died from the virus, representing a startling mortality rate of 11.7 percent—more than twice the rate observed in other countries. On Wednesday Italy recorded its biggest 24-hour increase in Covid-19 deaths: 475. The country’s renowned health care system is completely overburdened.
“It’s not a wave. It’s a tsunami,” Dr. Roberto Rona of Monza hospital told PBS. “It’s something that makes you change completely how you run a hospital.”
Italy is now seeking all the international support it can get. Francesco Rocca, head of the International Red Cross and Red Crescent, said that “We, the Italian Red Cross, are not used to receiving donations. We normally donate.”
The majority of cases, and the overwhelming majority of deaths, have occurred in Lombardy. The region’s top health official, Giulio Gallera, said they have almost maxed out their hospital capacity.
“We cannot continue to accumulate patients,” he said. “We have to have the ability to move out patients who improve, otherwise our ability to receive new ones is exhausted. In some hospitals, we have already arrived at that point.”
This past weekend, Spain and France became the latest countries to impose sprawling emergency lockdowns. In Spain, which has recorded 623 coronavirus deaths (the second most in Europe), all schools, museums, cultural centers and sports venues are closed, while restaurants are only open for delivery. Spaniards can only go out if they have a good reason to.
France, with over 9,000 cases, has shuttered all restaurants, cafes, cinemas, bars, nightclubs, and non-essential businesses. Businesses considered essential—ones exempt from the lockdown—include grocery stores, pharmacies, banks, petrol stations and tobacco stores.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced that all foreign travelers to Australia are obliged to go into self-isolation for 14 days—the upper limit of the coronavirus incubation period. “We will impose a universal compulsory self-isolation requirement on all international arrivals to Australia effective from midnight tonight,” Morrison said. “All people coming to Australia will be required, will be required, I stress, to self-isolate for 14 days. Further, the Australian government will ban cruise ships from foreign ports from arriving at Australian ports after an initial 30 days and that will go forward on a rolling basis.”
It was also reported that Australians not complying with official guidelines are liable to be fined.
In the US, President Donald Trump has finally changed his tune and appears to be taking the pandemic seriously. This was after he and his administration faced a storm of criticism over their initial handling of the crisis.
“He’s an idiot. He’s handled it horribly,” Brookings Institution fellow Elaine Kamarck said bluntly. “When things are rough, you want somebody who can exude confidence and competence and Trump does not do that. We’ve been incredibly lucky. For the last three years, there was nothing big going on that had a real bearing on the lives of the ordinary American. This does.”
Last Friday Trump declared a national state of emergency, freeing up billions of dollars of federal money to be used for combating the spread of the virus. He also announced a travel ban from the entire European continent, later adding Britain and Ireland to the list, and sealed off the US border with Canada. And while schools, theme parks and sports venues are closing, there has been little talk of implementing a Italian-style lockdown in the US, despite warnings from public health professionals that millions of Americans will likely be infected.