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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.


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.


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.


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.

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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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How Europe’s population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

The populations of countries across Europe are changing, with some increasing whilst others are falling. Populations are also ageing meaning the EU is having to react to changing demographics.

How Europe's population is changing and what the EU is doing about it

After decades of growth, the population of the European Union decreased over the past two years mostly due to the hundreds of thousands of deaths caused by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The latest data from the EU statistical office Eurostat show that the EU population was 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, 172,000 fewer than the previous year. On 1 January 2020, the EU had a population of 447.3 million.

This trend is because, in 2020 and 2021 the two years marked by the crippling pandemic, there have been more deaths than births and the negative natural change has been more significant than the positive net migration.

But there are major differences across countries. For example, in numerical terms, Italy is the country where the population has decreased the most, while France has recorded the largest increase.

What is happening and how is the EU reacting?

In which countries is the population growing?

In 2021, there were almost 4.1 million births and 5.3 million deaths in the EU, so the natural change was negative by 1.2 million (more broadly, there were 113,000 more deaths in 2021 than in 2020 and 531,000 more deaths in 2020 than in 2019, while the number of births remained almost the same).

Net migration, the number of people arriving in the EU minus those leaving, was 1.1 million, not enough to compensate.

A population growth, however, was recorded in 17 countries. Nine (Belgium, Denmark, Ireland, France, Cyprus, Luxembourg, Malta, Netherlands and Sweden) had both a natural increase and positive net migration.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Five things to know about Germany’s foreign population

In eight EU countries (the Czech Republic, Germany, Estonia, Spain, Lithuania, Austria, Portugal and Finland), the population increased because of positive net migration, while the natural change was negative.

The largest increase in absolute terms was in France (+185,900). The highest natural increase was in Ireland (5.0 per 1,000 persons), while the biggest growth rate relative to the existing population was recorded in Luxembourg, Ireland, Cyprus and Malta (all above 8.0 per 1,000 persons).

In total, 22 EU Member States had positive net migration, with Luxembourg (13.2 per 1 000 persons), Lithuania (12.4) and Portugal (9.6) topping the list.

Births and deaths in the EU from 1961 to 2021 (Eurostat)

Where is the population declining?

On the other hand, 18 EU countries had negative rates of natural change, with deaths outnumbering births in 2021.

Ten of these recorded a population decline. In Bulgaria, Italy, Hungary, Poland, and Slovenia population declined due to a negative natural change, while net migration was slightly positive.

In Croatia, Greece, Latvia, Romania and Slovakia, the decrease was both by negative natural change and negative net migration.

READ ALSO: Italian class sizes set to shrink as population falls further

The largest fall in population was reported in Italy, which lost over a quarter of a million (-253,100).

The most significant negative natural change was in Bulgaria (-13.1 per 1,000 persons), Latvia (-9.1), Lithuania (-8.7) and Romania (-8.2). On a proportional basis, Croatia and Bulgaria recorded the biggest population decline (-33.1 per 1,000 persons).

How is the EU responding to demographic change?

From 354.5 million in 1960, the EU population grew to 446.8 million on 1 January 2022, an increase of 92.3 million. If the growth was about 3 million persons per year in the 1960s, it slowed to about 0.7 million per year on average between 2005 and 2022, according to Eurostat.

The natural change was positive until 2011 and turned negative in 2012 when net migration became the key factor for population growth. However, in 2020 and 2021, this no longer compensated for natural change and led to a decline.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: One in four Austrian residents now of foreign origin

Over time, says Eurostat, the negative natural change is expected to continue given the ageing of the population if the fertility rate (total number of children born to each woman) remains low.

This poses questions for the future of the labour market and social security services, such as pensions and healthcare.

The European Commission estimates that by 2070, 30.3 per cent of the EU population will be 65 or over compared to 20.3 per cent in 2019, and 13.2 per cent is projected to be 80 or older compared to 5.8 per cent in 2019.

The number of people needing long-term care is expected to increase from 19.5 million in 2016 to 23.6 million in 2030 and 30.5 million in 2050.

READ ALSO: How foreigners are changing Switzerland

However, demographic change impacts different countries and often regions within the same country differently.

When she took on the Presidency of the European Commission, Ursula von der Leyen appointed Dubravka Šuica, a Croatian politician, as Commissioner for Democracy and Demography to deal with these changes.

Among measures in the discussion, in January 2021, the Commission launched a debate on Europe’s ageing society, suggesting steps for higher labour market participation, including more equality between women and men and longer working lives.

In April, the Commission proposed measures to make Europe more attractive for foreign workers, including simplifying rules for non-EU nationals who live on a long-term basis in the EU. These will have to be approved by the European Parliament and the EU Council.

In the fourth quarter of this year, the Commission also plans to present a communication on dealing with ‘brain drain’ and mitigate the challenges associated with population decline in regions with low birth rates and high net emigration.

This article is published in cooperation with Europe Street News, a news outlet about citizens’ rights in the EU and the UK.