The number of people dying from the coronavirus in Italy in the second wave of infections is on par with the toll in the first, a grim milestone that comes amid new lockdown measures.
The Institute for International Policy Studies (ISPI) reported on Tuesday that between September 1 and December 22, 33,731 people died from coronavirus.
That compares to 35,376 people from February 21 to August 31 – a period that included the peak of the pandemic in Italy, which was at the epicenter of Europe’s battle against the virus.
In December, the daily death toll was high again, between 600 and 800 deaths every 24 hours.
This morbid reality recalled many of the worst days of the Italian pandemic. On December 3, 993 people died from the virus in one day – a record number.
In order to stem the crisis, Italians are banned from traveling between the regions from December 25 and 26, Christmas period, to January 1, New Year’s Day.
So why are virus-related deaths on the rise again?
“Because the local health system has not been sufficiently strengthened,” Carlo Alberto Rossi, director of the Milan Medical Association (OMCEO), told Al Jazeera.
“During the first wave, we warned that certain measures had to be implemented and that these were partially or too late.”
He believes the government should have forced local health authorities to hire more doctors and improve coordination between regional health networks and hospitals.
“Obviously, with a high number of cases, you want to contain the situation by increasing the capacity of hospitals in emergency rooms. But if you fail to isolate the cases originally, you will never solve the main problem. “
As many observers have noted, the pandemic has highlighted the effects of years of budget cuts.
“The number of local doctors has been reduced to bone over the years and nothing has been done to increase it,” said Rossi, fearing that many doctors will retire soon.
To some extent it also depends on demographics. Twenty-three percent of the population is over 65, according to the National Institute of Statistics (ISTAT).
Italy had managed to emerge from the storm of the first wave, thanks to one of the strictest national lockdowns in the world, imposed in March.
People were only allowed to leave the house for their necessities. Summer brought a respite, and by August the average age of COVID patients had fallen to 29.
The previous sacrifices seemed to be paying off. In the fall, when other European countries started witness a push in the positive cases, the figures in Italy have remained relatively low.
But as winter approached, concerns about the country’s testing and tracing systems grew. In October, people complained that it was difficult to get tested through local state-run health agencies, receive help, or report their infections.
“The system was so complex that I gave up and personally contacted everyone I had come in contact with,” Marta Filippelli, 27, told Al Jazeera.
She said she initially made several phone calls to the national coronavirus hotline and the state-run local health agency ATS to convert her status into the track and trace app. COVID nationwide and informing others of its infection, but found the process ineffective.
In mid-October, as Italy’s largest union of hospital doctors, Anaao-Assomed, sounded the alarm over a situation that was about to get out of hand, Walter Ricciardi, a health ministry adviser, admitted that the virus containment strategy had failed. .
In its latest report, the National Institute of Health (ISS) showed it was able to detect the origin of only one of the four cases.
“From June to October, we acted like Sweden, which has a population density 10 times lower than ours,” Giovanni Di Perri, infectious disease specialist at Amedeo di Savoia hospital in Turin, told local media .
“There was a need for an obsessive prevention approach… but the desire for normality prevailed,” he said.
Repair, rather than prevent
Health expenditure in Italy per person is around 2,500 euros ($ 3,000), or about 15% less than the European Union average.
For comparison, Germany spends more than 4,400 euros per person and France, 3,883, according to data collected by Eurostat in 2017.
But hope is rising for the future. December 27 marks Europe’s “V-day”, when vaccination campaigns across the continent are expected to be rolled out.
“This is good news,” said Matteo Sbattella, a doctor working in the COVID department at Galmarini Tradate hospital in the northern province of Varese. “But I feel it as something too distant. I am still too in the wave ”.