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ANALYSIS: How do Italy’s Covid-19 numbers compare to other European countries?

As Italy records a declining coronavirus incidence rate and an accelerating vaccination campaign, we look at how the country's numbers compare to France, Germany and the UK.

ANALYSIS: How do Italy's Covid-19 numbers compare to other European countries?
A man wearing a face mask stands near the beach of the Old Seaside Village of Boccadasse in Genoa. (Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP)

The health situation in Italy is improving, as the new cases per 100,000 inhabitants have been falling since April and the pressure on hospitals is starting to ease, according to the latest health ministry report on Friday.

In fact, average daily new coronavirus cases is now below 4,000 for the first time since October 10th, the latest data showed, and deaths are also at a seven-month low.

The report stated that the weekly incidence rate was down to 47 per 100,000 inhabitants, from 66 per 100,000 for the previous week.

EXPLAINED: How has Italy changed the way it decides regional Covid-19 rules?

That makes it the first time this year that the incidence rate has dipped below 50 per 100,000 – the threshold which the Higher Health Institute (ISS) says “allows the containment of new cases”, as it is low enough for the country’s track and trace system to work effectively.

The Rt number – the reproduction rate, used to calculate how fast the virus is spreading – fell again, according to the latest data dropping to 0.72 from 0.78 the previous week, marking the lowest figure since almost a year ago.

These positive figures have seen three of Italy’s 20 regions move into the lowest-risk ‘white zone’ from Monday, with more soon to follow, and the country is experiencing a continued relaxing of restrictions.

MAP: Which parts of Italy will become Covid-19 ‘white zones’ in June?

It’s not only Italy that’s recording optimistic figures. Germany has also witnessed a steady decline in new Covid cases since April with a marked fall in the number of intensive care patients, while Covid-related deaths have fallen slightly.

The chart below by Our World in Data gives an overview of the Covid cases per million to give an overall picture of how Italy fares against the UK, Germany and France.

Based on the declining numbers, the German newspaper, Tagesspiegel, looked into how some of the largest European countries are progressing, looking ahead to possible summer travel. Here’s what they found.

Italy

Population: 60.4 million

7-day incidence: 39

Positive rate: 1.8 percent (May 27)

Intensive care patients: 1643 (May 20)

7-day mean deaths: 117

Vaccinated residents: 38 percent (fully vaccinated: 20 percent)

The paper noted that Italy hit the third coronavirus wave peak in March – which was earlier than France and Germany. After rising to 269 cases per 100,000 people at the end of the month, the incidence rate has been falling continuously since then.

Since the end of April, Italy and Germany have been around the same for the decline in the number of infections.

The 7-day incidence is now also at a comparable level. The situation continues to level peg for ICU patients and deaths, each in relation to the population.

People enjoy a drink at the Lido di Ostia seafront, southwest of Rome, as the easing of lockdown measures allows people to go to the beach. Italy is one of the countries worst-hit by the pandemic, with more than 122,000 deaths. Photo: Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Compared to Germany, though, the proportion of the total number of tests showing positive is significantly lower in Italy. However, as has been seen in France, this is also owed to the fact that significantly more tests have recently been carried out in Italy (an average of around 230,000 per day).

The vaccination rate in Italy is comparable to that in France, but slightly behind Germany – and the United Kingdom continues to be strides ahead.

However, the UK is also currently working to contain the so-called ‘Indian variant’, making it one of the few countries in Europe where the 7-day incidence is currently rising, although only slightly.

Germany

Population: 83 million

7-day incidence: 37

Positive rate: 5.8 percent (May 26)

Intensive care patients: about 2,450

7-day mean deaths: 149

Vaccinated population: 43 percent (fully vaccinated: 17 percent)

Taking a closer look at Germany, experts cite reasons such as tightened measures, a shift in public behaviour and better weather as the cause of why Germany has seen a drop in Covid-19 cases since April.

As the incidence in Germany is steadily falling, it could even fall below that of the UK’s soon.

READ ALSO: How did Germany get Covid cases down and will the trend continue?

This positive development has allowed districts and cities across the country to begin easing lockdown measures and reopening more of public life after restrictions came into force in November 2020.

People queue in front of a Covid-19 rapid antigen test center on the Castle Square in Stuttgart. Photo: THOMAS KIENZLE / AFP

Comparing the two countries’ vaccination campaign, Germany is ahead with 43 percent of first doses compared to about 38 percent in Italy.

Since the first jab provides some protection against Covid-19, the number of ICU patients and deaths in Germany may fluctuate less in future. In Germany there are now 2,450 ICU patients, which is less than the 2,500 that German Interdisciplinary Association for Intensive Care and Emergency Medicine (DIVI) predicted for mid-June.

In Italy on the other hand, there are 1,643 Covid-19 patients in ICU.

France

Population: 67.1 million

7-day incidence: 95

Positive rate: 3.5 percent (May 24)

Intensive care patients: about 3,000

7-day mean deaths: 115

Vaccinated population: 37 percent (fully vaccinated: 16 percent)

France is one of only a few countries in Europe with a 7-day incidence close to 100. This can be owed to the country having to recover from a much higher third coronavirus wave, the Tagesspiegel analysis said.  

Looking at April, while the number of new infections in Italy peaked at the beginning of the month at over 23,000, France logged almost 60,000 new Covid infections around the same time. 

Photo: Damien MEYER / AFP

After the incidence hit 477 infections per 100,000 people in mid-April, it has been falling continuously since then and reached 79 in the past week. There was a short spike back up to around 100, but the incidence is now falling again.

The number of positive tests – the so-called positive rate – is 1.7 percent higher than Italy, with France carrying out an average of around 300,000 tests per day compared to Italy’s 230,000.

READ ALSO: France opens Covid vaccines to everyone over 18

The vaccination rate in both countries is currently comparable between Italy and France.

The UK

Population: 66.7 million

7-day incidence: 32

Positive rate: 0.3 percent (May 26)

ICU patients: 743 (May 28)

7-day mean deaths: 9

Vaccinated residents: 58 percent (fully vaccinated: 37 percent)

Britain’s coronavirus situation and outlook is a mixed picture. It has benefited from a vaccination campaign that has far superseded all EU countries as a result of setting its own agenda following Brexit, with a remarkable 58 percent of the British population now having at least one shot. More than a third have already been fully vaccinated. 

The whole of the EU has coordinated the vaccination rollout with no country tackling it alone, meaning it’s taken longer compared to the agility of a single country.

Travel to and from the UK faces tougher restrictions following more Covid-19 variant outbreaks. (Photo by Daniel LEAL-OLIVAS / AFP)

However, the UK has faced other setbacks such as tackling new strains of Covid-19 such as the so-called ‘English variant’ and ‘Indian variant’ – labelled as such for where these strains were first detected.

TRAVEL: Italy extends entry ban for India, Bangladesh and Sri Lanka

The 7-day incidence could be higher due to the variant that first originated in India. In early January, the UK had an incidence of 630 cases per 100,000 people.

A strict lockdown followed and the vaccination campaign steamed ahead, which saw the rate quickly fall below 100 by the end of February.

When the third wave started in Italy, the numbers in the UK decreased. The temporary lowest number was reached in mid-May at 20 cases per 100,000 people, a month after the country had reopened.

For the first time since the end of April, the number of new infections every day has risen to more than 3,000 in the past week, even reaching more than 4,000 in a day.

Even though this could signal a new wave for the UK, the other key indicators continue to develop very well in Britain compared to the rest of Europe, including Italy.

While the incidence is at a similar level, the number of deaths – 9 on a weekly average – is very low. In Italy there are 117. The number of people in ICU wards is also low at 743 versus Italy’s 1643.

The UK also continues widespread testing, with almost a million swabs a day, with just 0.3 percent showing positive.

Still, the Indian variant has caused concern, with Austria, Germany and France imposing travel restrictions from the UK – but so far, Italy doesn’t plan to follow suit.

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POLITICS

Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

French-Italian relations soured this week amid a row over migrant rescues, with the two countries accusing each other of "incomprehensible" behaviour. Here's a look at what it all means.

Why are France and Italy rowing over migrants and what are the consequences?

A row between France and Italy escalated further on Friday morning, as Italian Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni slammed what she called the French government’s “incomprehensible and unjustified” response to taking in a migrant rescue vessel rejected by Rome.

France had warned Italy of  “severe consequences” on Thursday after it accepted the Ocean Viking rescue ship carrying 234 migrants amid a blazing row over which country is responsible for them.

France has never before allowed a rescue vessel carrying migrants from the Mediterranean to land on its coast, but did so this time because Italy had refused access.

Italian leaders had on Wednesday claimed that France was ready to accept the ship – leading to suggestions that Italy’s government had tried to force France into accepting the rescue ship by announcing a deal when there wasn’t one.

Paris immediately hit back, saying on Thursday it would accept the ship but would suspend another deal to take thousands of migrants from Italy.

How did this start?

The Ocean Viking ship had initially sought access to Italy’s coast, closest to where the migrants were picked up, saying health and sanitary conditions onboard were rapidly worsening.

Italy refused, saying other nations must take in more of the thousands of migrants trying to reach Europe from North Africa every year.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin slammed Italy’s stance as “incomprehensible”, saying the Ocean Viking “is located without any doubt in Italy’s search and rescue zone”.

French Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin said on Thursday the Ocean Viking could dock at the port of Toulon and a third of the migrant passengers will be “relocated” to France. (Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP)

He slammed Italian authorities for “making the migrants wait at sea for 15 days”.

Later on Thursday and again on Friday, the Italian government also used the word “incomprehensible” to describe France’s response to allowing a migrant ship to disembark in a French port.

What’s behind Italy’s policy?

Italy’s refusal this week to allow migrants to disembark is a move that will please the new government’s far-right, Eurosceptic support base, and is thought also to be intended to force other countries to accept changes Italy wants to make to the EU-wide policy on accepting and distributing asylum seekers between member states.

Italy’s Foreign Minister Antonio Tajani said this week that the government was sending a “signal” to other EU nations that international law must change.

READ ALSO: Anger as Italy accused of illegally rejecting migrants rescued at sea

Under international law, ships in distress or carrying rescued passengers must be allow entry in the nearest port of call – which means Italy and often Malta must take in those rescued after trying to cross the Mediterranean from Libya.

In June, around a dozen EU countries, including France, agreed to take in migrants who arrive in Italy and other main entry points.

People on the deck of the Ocean Viking rescue ship in the Gulf of Catania in the Mediterranean Sea in international waters on November 6th, 2022. (Photo by VINCENZO CIRCOSTA / AFP)

Rome wants “an agreement to establish, on the basis of population, how migrants with a right to asylum are relocated to various countries”, Tajani said ahead of a meeting of EU ministers next week.

But commentators said Italy’s tactic of apparently forcing France to take the ship could easily backfire.

The hardline policy is led by Meloni – the leader of the post-fascist Brothers of Italy party, who once said Italy should “repatriate migrants back to their countries and then sink the boats that rescued them” – and anti-immigrant League leader Matteo Salvini, known for his policy of closing Italian ports to rescue ships as interior minister in 2019.

Their hardline stance is expected to lead to strained ties that complicate decision-making on a range of subjects at the EU level.

“We’re seeing diplomatic arm-wrestling between France and Italy that could open a breach for similar conflicts, because Italy is clearly challenging a European accord (on migrants) that was in its favour,” Matthieu Tardis of the French Institute for International Relations told AFP.

How has France reacted?

Darmanin on Thursday warned of  “severe consequences” for Italy’s bilateral relations with France and the EU as a whole, and said Italy’s refusal to accept the migrants was “incomprehensible”.

He said France had acted according to its “humanitarian duty”, but the migrants were Italy’s responsibility under EU rules, and that the French move was an “exceptional” measure that would not guide future action.

What are the consequences?

The row has gone beyond a war of words as France has suspended a plan to take in 3,500 refugees currently in Italy under a European accord and urged Germany and other EU nations to do the same.

French police said on Friday it had also reinforced controls at Italian border crossings.

The flare-up of tensions echoes European migrant disputes four years ago, when French President Emmanuel Macron in particular clashed with Italy’s anti-immigrant interior minister Matteo Salvini.

Salvini, now back in government as infrastructure minister – meaning he has control of Italy’s ports – has again pledged to follow a hard line on preventing migrant arrivals.

The row over migrants marks a return to fractured relations between France and Italy after previous cooperation under Mario Draghi’s government.

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