The coronavirus pandemic has badly affected Italy, where the northern regions were a hotspot for the illness before it began to spread across the entire country. So far, there have been 41,035 confirmed cases, second only to China. But the country’s death toll has risen significantly of late.
Why has Italy been hit so hard with coronavirus?
On March 19, Italy’s death toll surpassed the number of deceased in China, where the coronavirus originated in December.
There have been 3,405 dead, which is a rise of 427 on the day before, and the outbreak first started to take hold in Italy on February 21. China has reported 3,245 deaths.
Thursday’s figure represented a slight improvement on the day before, when Italy recorded 475 deaths – the most reported by any country in a single day since the start of the outbreak.
However, the total number of cases in Italy rose to 41,035 from a previous 35,713, up 14.9 percent, a faster growth rate than seen over the last three days, the Civil Protection Agency said.
Coronavirus is known to be more of a threat to the elderly as well as those with underlying health conditions.
Italy has the second-oldest population in the world and the younger generation mingle more often with elderly loved ones.
University of Oxford researchers have put these two facts down as possible reasons for Italy’s death toll being so high.
University of Oxford demographer and epidemiologist Jennifer Beam Dowd, lead author of the paper said: “Extended longevity has played some role in changing the population structure.
“But it actually has most to do with how rapid the decline in fertility has been in a population.”
Younger Italians tend to interact more than other countries with their elders and that’s mostly down to the fact that many live in the same households as their parents and grandparents.
Family data shows that many live with their elders in rural areas and commute to cities, like Milan in the Lombardy region where the coronavirus spread quickly.
The university researchers argue that the frequent travel between cities and rural homes may have exacerbated the “silent” spread of the virus.
Young people working and socialising in towns and cities interact with crowds and they might pick up COVID-19 there and take it home to their elders.
If they have no symptoms, they won’t know that they’re infecting the elderly.
Italy is under a full lockdown, a measure introduced to delay the spread of the virus.
Ms Beam said: “One of the points that we were trying to make is that it’s not necessarily just about isolating the older population – we are identifying that they’re the most vulnerable – but the general social distancing that’s being encouraged to flatten the curve.
“I think our point was that’s actually more important when you have a higher fraction of your population that is vulnerable.”
Dowd says Italy’s example can be used to help other countries fight the pandemic.
It could be used to pinpoint areas with older populations and try “to anticipate a little bit where the burden of care is going to be the most severe”.
But a country having an ageing population does not necessarily guarantee devastating infection and mortality figures.
More than 28 percent of the Japanese population is over 65 but as of March 19 had 924 cases and 29 deaths, compared to Italy’s 41,035 and 3,405.