Italian ambassador hits back over claim that Sweden ‘should have done better’ than Italy

The Italian embassy in Stockholm has criticised Sweden's state epidemiologist after comments in which he said the Swedish healthcare system "should have done better than Italy" in its handling of the coronavirus pandemic.

Italian ambassador hits back over claim that Sweden 'should have done better' than Italy
The italian ambassador said Italy's hospitals were "among the best in the world" following comments by Sweden's state epidemiologist. Photo: AFP

Italian ambassador Mario Cospito stated his country's healthcare system was “unanimously considered among the best in the world” and that those working in it deserved “respect and admiration […] in Italy and abroad” in his response to a radio interview with Tegnell.

Swedish state epidemiologist Anders Tegnell told Sveriges Radio: “We had really thought that in a modern, wealthy society in Sweden we should be able to protect our elderly. [We thought that] it didn't need to be as it appeared in China, and perhaps even Italy, where they have less resources for this, but that we should as a society be able to manage this better.”

The interview did not give further details about where Tegnell believed Italy had fewer resources than Sweden, with the next question in the published version referring to Tegnell's hobby gardening. The Local has contacted the Public Health Agency for clarification on any difference in resources.

In the World Health Organisation's ranking of international healthcare systems, Italy was judged the second best in the world, with Sweden ranked 23rd, as the statement from Italy's ambassador noted.

Ambassador Mario Cospito also pointed out that Italy has 5,000 intensive care beds (in a population of 60 million), with capacity to create “thousands more” if needed. Sweden currently has around 1,000 intensive care beds, a figure which has doubled since the start of the coronavirus outbreak, and has maintained 20-30 percent available capacity in ICUs across the whole country. 

Swedish healthcare staff have however warned of unclear guidelines and that some patients needing intensive care are not receiving it despite there still being several hospital beds available in the region, prompting an investigation by the country's healthcare watchdog.


“The challenge of Covid-19 is not a football game, nor are there opposing fans in the stands who hope for the victory of their team: it is a common and generational challenge to guarantee everyone's health,” the statement from Italy's ambassador reminded.

“No cases have been shown where care has been denied to the infected or the seriously ill. In addition, in Italy, there is a comprehensive structure of private hospitals and clinics ready to move in to offer support to the national healthcare system.”

It also noted that “no one has so far questioned the Italian national health care system in the fight against Covid-19”, citing support from the WHO, European Union, and European Centre for Disease Control. 

Elderly care facilities have been badly hit by the virus in both countries, and elsewhere in the world. In Italy, most care home deaths are not included in the official death tolls, and police have reported cases of neglect, lack of cleanliness, and “suspicious deaths” in care homes across the country.

In Sweden, the healthcare watchdog on Wednesday said one in ten of the more than 1,000 care homes it had audited showed signs of “serious problems”, including linked to hygiene or staff continuing to work despite suspected infection, while there have also been reports of elderly people not being offered oxygen treatment and intensive care.

Sweden's death tolls include deaths outside hospitals and in care homes but only where the patient tested positive for the virus before death; the country's per capita testing rate is one of the lowest in Europe but care home residents are in the top priority group for testing. 

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Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Just weeks after going on trial in a case brought by Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni, Italian investigative journalist Roberto Saviano was back in court on Wednesday facing allegations of defamation lodged by Meloni's deputy, Matteo Salvini.

Second Italian minister takes anti-mafia reporter Saviano to court

Deputy Prime Minister Salvini, whose far-right League party is a key member of Meloni’s coalition, is suing the journalist for calling him the “minister of the criminal underworld” in a social media post in 2018.

In November, Saviano went on trial in a case brought by Meloni for calling her a “bastard” in 2020 over her attitude towards vulnerable migrants.

READ ALSO: Press freedom fears as Italian PM Meloni takes Saviano to trial

Meloni’s far-right Brothers of Italy party was in opposition at the time, but won September elections on a promise to curb mass migration.

Saviano, known for his international mafia bestseller “Gomorrah”, regularly clashes with Italy’s far-right and says the trials are an attempt to intimidate him.

He faces up to three years in prison if convicted in either trial.

“I think it is the only case in Western democracies where the executive asks the judiciary to lay down the boundaries within which it is possible to criticise it,” Saviano said in a declaration in court on Wednesday.

He said he was “blatantly the victim of intimidation by lawsuit”, on trial “for making my opinion, my thoughts, public”.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about press freedom in Italy

Press freedom watchdogs and supporters of Saviano have called for the suits to be scrapped. Meloni refused in November, despite criticism that her position of power makes it an unfair trial.

Armed guard

Saviano has lived under police protection since revealing the secrets of the Naples mafia in 2006.

But when Salvini was appointed interior minister in a previous government in June 2018, he suggested he might scrap Saviano’s armed guard.

The writer reacted on Facebook, saying Salvini “can be defined ‘the minister of the criminal underworld’,” an expression he said was coined by anti-fascist politician Gaetano Salvemini to describe a political system which exploited voters in Italy’s poorer South.

READ ALSO: Anti-mafia author Saviano won’t be ‘intimidated’ by Salvini

He accused Salvini of having profited from votes in Calabria to get elected senator, while failing to denounce the region’s powerful ‘Ndrangheta mafia and focusing instead on seasonal migrants.

Salvini’s team are expected to reject any claim he is soft on the mafia.

Saviano’s lawyer said he will call as a witness the current interior minister Matteo Piantedosi, who at the time was in charge of evaluating the journalist’s police protection.

The next hearing was set for June 1st.

Watchdogs have warned of the widespread use in Italy of SLAPPS, lawsuits aimed at silencing journalists or whistleblowers.

Defamation through the media can be punished in Italy with prison sentences from six months to three years, but the country’s highest court has urged lawmakers to rewrite the law, saying jail time for such cases was unconstitutional.

Saviano is also being sued by Culture Minister Gennaro Sangiuliano in a civil defamation case brought in 2020, before Sangiuliano joined the cabinet.

A ruling in that case could come in the autumn. If he loses that case Saviano may have to pay up to 50,000 euros in compensation, his lawyer told AFP.

Italy ranked 58th in the 2022 world press freedom index published by Reporters Without Borders, one of the lowest positions in western Europe.