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HEALTH

The numbers that show a year of Covid-19 in Italy

It has now been one year since parts of northern Italy declared their first coronavirus lockdowns, and the entire country has been living with the virus ever since. We look back on 12 months of the Covid-19 pandemic in Italy, in numbers.

The numbers that show a year of Covid-19 in Italy
Italy has now been living with the coronavirus for over a year. Photo: Andrea Pattaro/AFP

Health data

2.8 million: the number of cases of Covid-19 confirmed in Italy since the pandemic began. 

96,000: Italy's total Covid-19 death toll to date. 

993: the highest number of deaths in Italy in a single day, recorded on December 3rd 2020. Before then the record was 921 on March 27th.

40,896: the most new cases recorded in Italy in one day, on November 13th 2020. During the first wave, the high was 6,554 on March 21st. 

Daily new cases regularly top 10,000 now, though that is partly due to far more widespread testing.

READ ALSO: Eight things the year-long Covid crisis has taught us about Italy


Photo: AFP

4,068: the most Covid-19 patients in intensive care at any one time, on April 3rd 2020. The highest number of ICU patients during the second wave was 3,848 on November 25th.

581,000: the total number of cases reported in Lombardy, the region with the most infections, which has seen more than 28,000 deaths. 

81: the mean age of people who have died from Covid-19 in Italy. There were more than 35,500 victims in the hardest hit age group of 80-89 year olds, according to the Higher Health Institute (ISS).

2.3 million: the number of people who have recovered from Covid-19 in Italy. 

19 million: the rough number of people who have been tested for coronavirus in Italy to date. 
 
0.99: the average Rt (reproduction) number across Italy, according to the latest official report. Ten areas of Italy currently have an Rt number above 1, which indicates that new cases will spread rapidly.

40-50 percent: the proportion of new cases in Italy that could involve one of the variants of the Sars-Cov-2 virus detected around the world in the past two months, according to experts. 

“In regions where the variant is found to account for at least 50 percent of cases, the more contagious variant will almost completely replace the 'standard' version within a month and a half from today,” Dr Rosario Corrado Spinella of Italy's National Research Council (CNR) warned this week

Politics

2: the number of governments Italy has had since the Covid emergency began, with zero elections. While Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte steered the country through its first lockdown and saw his approval ratings soar, his coalition government collapsed when it came to planning Italy's recovery.

He was replaced last week by former chief banker Mario Draghi, who now leads a “unity” government made up of the biggest parties from left and right plus technocrats.

READ ALSO: How will Italy's Covid-19 strategy change under the new government?

21: the number of rounds of applause Prime Minister Draghi got during his first speech in parliament. The longest came when he said: “Today unity is not an option but a duty. But it is a duty guided by what I am sure unites us all: love for Italy.”


Photo: Andrew Medichini/Pool/AFP

Economy

8.9 percent: the amount by which Italy's GDP shrank last year, according to figures from the national statistics office. That makes Italy one of the worst-hit economies in the European Union.

420,000: the number of jobs lost in Italy between February and December 2020. Working women have borne the brunt, with 99,000 women losing their jobs in December alone compared to 2,000 men.

Economists say women in Italy have been disproportionately hit as they more often have insecure positions in service industries, such as tourism or catering, which have been particularly badly affected by the pandemic.

€2.8 billion: the amount that US tourists alone would usually contribute to the Italian economy in a year, most of which was lost in 2020 due to restrictions on travel from outside the EU. 

In total, international tourism in Italy is typically worth an estimated €42 billion.

€209 billion: the sum of EU emergency funds that Italy hopes to claim, with the government due to submit a spending plan to Brussels by the end of April. Draghi has indicated that his priorities are reforms to the tax and justice systems, as well as cutting bureaucratic red tape and getting pupils safely back to school.

Rules and restrictions

2: the number of Covid-19 deaths reported in Italy by the time the first local lockdowns were declared on February 22nd 2020, in ten towns in Lombardy and one in Veneto.

The first locally transmitted cases had been detected days earlier and in the days that followed, the count rapidly surged from a handful of patients to hundreds. Swathes of northern Italy would then be locked down, followed soon afterwards by the entire country.

READ ALSO: Codogno one year on: How is the first Italian town hit by coronavirus faring?

55: the number of days Italy spent in full nationwide lockdown between March 10th and May 3rd 2020. 

The rules were progressively relaxed over the spring and summer, only to start being tightened again in autumn. The government declared a further ten days of national lockdown over the Christmas, New Year and Epiphany holidays.

94 percent: how much visits to restaurants, bars, cafes and other leisure places decreased in the early weeks of the first lockdown, according to an April 2020 report by Google using data collected via its Maps app. Trips to food shops and pharmacies were down 85 percent, while visits to parks and beaches fell by 90 percent.

7.8 million: the number of people stopped by police in April 2020, when checks were at their highest. Around 256,000 people were fined that month for breaking strict lockdown rules.

For comparison, in January 2021 some 2.8 million people were checked and just under 35,000 fined, according to Interior Ministry figures.

6pm: the time at which people gathered to sing together from their windows, balconies and rooftops during the early days of lockdown.


Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

3: the number of 'zones' in Italy now, where restrictions get tighter depending on whether each region is classed yellow, orange or red. There is technically a fourth zone, white, but no region has yet seen its infection numbers fall low enough to be declared one.

MAP: Which zone is your region in under Italy's tier system?

21: the number of factors that health authorities take into account when deciding which regions should be classed as high-risk, including Rt number, number of patients in hospital and test positivity rate. The data is reassessed weekly.

10pm: the time by when you should be home for the night under Italy's nationwide curfew. You're allowed out again from 5am. 

3: the number of legitimate reasons for leaving your region of Italy while a domestic travel ban remains in force, according to the latest version of the 'autodichiarazione' (self-certification) form you're supposed to fill in if you need to make an urgent trip. They are listed as: work; health reasons; other essential reasons.

The ban will continue until at least March 27th, the government announced this week.

€400-1,000: the sum you could be fined if you are caught breaking Italy's coronavirus rules, for example by disobeying curfew, travelling between regions without an essential reason, failing to self-isolate after returning from overseas, or not wearing a face mask in public.

1500: the toll-free number you can call in Italy for any questions related to the pandemic. The helpline, run by the Health Ministry, operates 24 hours a day.

Vaccinations

3.6 million: the number of doses of Covid-19 vaccines that have been administered in Italy so far, immunizing some 1.3 million people.

READ ALSO: Where to register for a Covid-19 vaccine in your region of Italy


Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

€0: the cost of getting a Covid-19 vaccine in Italy, which the Health Ministry has said should be free for all.

6: the number of categories into which Italy has divided its population to determine who gets vaccinated first. Older and medically vulnerable people are the top priority, while young, healthy adults not working in key sectors are the last in line.

Member comments

  1. Italy as the first country outside China to be hit so hard with COVID-19, did an amazing job under so much pressure. We were in Australia and were due to holiday there in April and May last year, so were looking very closely with how everything unfolded. It was so sad to watch and looked impossible to get on top of.

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ITALIAN ELECTIONS

What will a right-wing election victory mean for abortion rights in Italy?

The right-wing parties poised to win Italy’s upcoming general elections have a history of denouncing abortion. Could a new conservative government threaten reproductive rights in Italy?

What will a right-wing election victory mean for abortion rights in Italy?

When Italians go to the polls on September 25th, a coalition of three right-wing parties – Giorgia Meloni’s Brothers of Italy, Matteo Salvini’s League and Forza Italia, led by former premier Silvio Berlusconi – are widely expected to win the vote and secure the opportunity to form Italy’s next government.

READ ALSO: Your ultimate guide to Italy’s crucial elections on Sunday

With all three parties to the right of centre – by quite some way, in the case of Brothers of Italy and the League – activists are concerned about what Italy’s most socially conservative government in years could mean for women seeking to access abortions, as they have had the legal right to do here for over four decades.

Here’s what Italian law says about abortion, what the right-wing alliance has promised it will – or won’t – change, and what all this could mean for people in need of abortion care in Italy.

What is Italy’s law on abortion now?

Abortion – formally referred to in Italian as interruzione volontaria di gravidanza or IVG, ‘voluntary termination of pregnancy’ – has been legal in Italy since 1978.

Passed after years of protests and several other failed bills, Legge 194 (‘Law 194’) decriminalized the procedure and entitled women to request it for any reasons of physical or mental health within the first 90 days after conception.

Women can continue to seek an abortion after 90 days if a significant foetal abnormality is present, or if continuing the pregnancy would endanger the woman’s life.

READ ALSO: The long road to legal abortion in Italy

The procedure is offered free of charge to those who qualify for public healthcare in Italy.

To access it, women first must consult a doctor and discuss options “to help her to overcome the factors which would lead her to have her pregnancy terminated”.

If the patient continues to affirm her original choice, she will be issued a certificate either stating that the termination is urgent and can be carried out immediately, or, if it is not deemed urgent, that she can seek the procedure after a obligatory seven-day wait.

Campaigners in front of a banner reading ‘Don’t touch law 194’. Photo by FABRIZIO VILLA / AFP

In reality, the wait for an appointment is likely to be far longer. Law 194 also affirms the right of health workers to refuse to carry out abortions on the grounds of “conscientious objection”. 

This has translated into serious gaps in coverage across Italy, with some facilities staffed mostly or even entirely by personnel who decline to deliver abortion services.  

READ ALSO: Why abortions in Italy are still hard to access – despite being legal

In fact, a majority of gynaecologists in Italy – 64.6 percent, according to 2020 figures from the Ministry of Health – are registered objectors, as well as 44.6 percent of anaesthesiologists and 36.2 percent of non-medical staff at health facilities. 

In several parts of the country, including the regions of Sicily, Basilicata, Abruzzo, Molise and the province of Bolzano, the percentage of gynaecologists refusing to perform abortions is over 80 percent.

These doctors are probably out of step with public opinion in Italy. A 1981 referendum gave voters the opportunity to reject the new abortion law; 68 percent of them voted to keep it. 

More recently, an Ipsos poll conducted earlier this year found that 73 percent of people surveyed in Italy said abortion should be legal in all or most cases.

What election promises has Italy’s right-wing alliance made about abortion?

No doubt sensing the lack of appetite for a full-scale repeal of Italy’s abortion law, the right-wing coalition has made clear that that’s not on its agenda. 

Abortion doesn’t get a single mention in the joint platform put forward by the Brothers of Italy, League and Forza Italia. 

Law 194 does appear in the Brothers of Italy programme, which promises “full application” of the legislation, “starting with prevention” of abortion.

To this end, it pledges the allocation of funds to support single and economically disadvantaged women to carry pregnancies to term, a proposal echoed by the League and presented by both parties as part of a broader drive to reverse Italy’s plummeting birth rate.

The League’s platform also calls for implementation of Law 194’s provisions on the “effective promotion of life”, including by involving non-profit groups – presumably Catholic and other pro-life ones – in pre-abortion counselling.

Forza Italia, historically the most centrist of the three, hasn’t broached the subject at all. 

READ ALSO: Salvini vs Meloni: Can Italy’s far-right rivals put differences aside?

Both Meloni and Salvini have faced questions on the campaign trail about their position on abortion, given previous comments calling abortion “a defeat for society” (Meloni), loudly professed Catholicism (Salvini) and support for European allies who have restricted access to abortion, such as Hungarian Prime Minister Viktor Orban (both). 

“Law 194 isn’t to be touched,” Salvini told reporters this week. “The last thing Italy needs is a country divided and arguing over the laws in place – which can be improved and updated, but certainly not scrapped.”

Meloni, meanwhile, told a recent interviewer that “I never said I want to modify Law 194, but that I want to apply it”. That includes supporting women who feel obliged to abort for economic or practical reasons, she said – as well as supporting health workers who refuse to provide the procedure. 

Why are activists worried a new right-wing government could threaten abortion rights in Italy?

The problem is that Law 194 perhaps does need an overhaul if it is to guarantee access to safe, legal abortions across Italy. 

Those who support women’s right to choose have long complained that the 44-year-old law – whose primary objective, the Italian Health Ministry’s website states, “is the social protection of motherhood and the prevention of abortion” – is not fit for purpose.

A demonstrator holds a sign reading ‘free to choose’ at a rally in defence of Italy’s abortion law. Photo by FABRIZIO VILLA / AFP

Law 194 “does not establish in a strong sense women’s right to choice and self-determination: it establishes when access to it is permitted and granted,” Chiara Lalli, a writer and academic with a focus on abortion, told Il Post

The multiple doctor visits, mandatory counselling session and seven-day “reflection” period are attempts to interfere with women’s decisions, activists say. 

READ ALSO: ‘Ugly act’: Outrage in Italy over discovery of foetus graves marked with women’s names

Separately, watchdogs including the United Nations Human Rights Committee, Human Rights Watch and the Council of Europe’s committee of social rights have flagged the high rates of conscientious objectors as a persistent barrier to abortion access in Italy.

While authorities are supposed to ensure that women can access terminations and that objecting doctors can’t refuse care beyond the procedure itself, with no mechanisms to enforce these requirements specified in the existing law, in practice women report facing long delays or being denied assistance altogether. 

In the past, both Brothers and Italy and the League have resisted attempts to help the problem, such as by recruiting specifically non-objecting doctors.

While these problems are longstanding, there have been attempts in recent years to put more obstacles between women and abortions – mainly from regional or municipal politicians, who tend to be more explicit in their opposition than those on the national stage.

Many of these have come from members of the three main right-wing parties, which together have governed 14 of Italy’s 20 regions for the past two years.

And with each region largely in charge of managing its own public health service, regional governments have the power to make decisions that significantly affect how and where women can access abortions.

In Le Marche, headed by the Brothers of Italy, the regional government refused to implement 2020 national guidelines from the Ministry of Health that would have extended the window for medical abortions from seven to nine weeks and made it possible for women to obtain abortion pills in outpatient clinics and family planning centres instead of going into hospital. 

Abruzzo, whose council is also led by Brothers of Italy, as well as Piedmont and Umbria, two regions governed by the League, resisted the change too.

Priests join an anti-abortion demonstration on May 21st 2022 in central Rome. The placard reads “Human Rights are born in the womb”. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

Piedmont has further allowed anti-abortion groups to set up stands in public hospitals, and councillors have proposed funnelling public funds to groups that would pay women not to abort

The League-run council in Verona declared it a “pro-life city” and called for funding for anti-abortion projects to be written into the town budget, as well as authorizing anti-abortion groups to display promotional material in council buildings. 

In the wider region of Veneto, such groups are allowed to offer family counselling services alongside those providing neutral information – a move the League’s manifesto suggests extending when it talks about involving non-profits in “the promotion of life”. 

To those who support abortion, it all starts to look like a pattern. “As soon as a right-wing council takes charge, it seems like these issues are at the top of the agenda,” Beatrice Brignone, head of the small left-wing party Possibile, told L’Espresso back in 2020.

READ ALSO: Why an Italian woman was forced to go to 23 hospitals to have an abortion

With threats to abortion access in Italy emerging locally and unchecked at national level, some activists say they would in fact welcome putting Law 194 up for debate under the next government.

“As much to better implement it as to make the necessary modifications … it is time to begin an informed discussion on abortion and free ourselves from the prejudice that the law is untouchable,” comments the Luca Coscioni Association, which advocates for freedom of scientific research and backs abortion rights.

Meloni and her allies have already made clear that such a discussion will not be among their priorities if they win this weekend. 

What do other parties say about abortion?

Abortion isn’t an issue for either the centrists Italia Viva or Azione, nor for the populist Five Star Movement.

The centre-left Democratic Party promises the full application of Law 194 throughout the country, without going into further details.

The only concrete proposals come from much smaller parties on the left: Possibile proposes establishing a quota of at least 60 percent of non-objecting staff in each health facility, as well as tracking the service provided by each region and punishing those who fail to meet minimum standards. 

The Greens and Left Alliance wants to change recruitment rules to hire more non-objecting medical staff, while +Europa suggests partnering with private clinics to expand access and making medical abortion more widely available as an outpatient procedure.

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