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10 Mar, 2020 02:43

‘Italy is not Europe’s coronavirus hotbed, it’s just the first country that snapped’ – Milan-based journalist to RT

‘Italy is not Europe’s coronavirus hotbed, it’s just the first country that snapped’ – Milan-based journalist to RT

With the entirety of Italy put under quarantine, the Mediterranean nation has been seen as the hardest-hit by the coronavirus in Europe. Italian journalist Evgeny Utkin believes, however, that it’s just the most tested one.

Utkin, a journalist based in Italy and an expert on economics and politics, told RT he believes the situation with the coronavirus as reported in the press (that it is ravaging Italy, yet somehow affecting neighboring countries on a far smaller scale) does not represent the reality on the ground.

Also on rt.com All of Italy will be ‘red zone’: Public gatherings banned, people to move only for emergency & work, says PM Conte

The catch, he said, is that while in some countries the number of those infected might be underreported, in Italy (at least at the beginning of the outbreak) there was an overreaction instead.

“Italy was the first country whose nerves snapped,” Utkin said. “They started testing absolutely everyone.”

Rigorous testing sent the number of confirmed cases skyrocketing, Utkin believes, with the alarming statistics soon driving panic and making international headlines. Over the past weekend, northern Italy, where the outbreak erupted, was put on lockdown, which was further extended to the whole of the country on Monday.  

At least 463 have died from Covid-19 – the disease caused by the coronavirus – across Italy as of Monday, and the total number of cases stands at over 9,000. 

While the spread of the virus is a legitimate reason for concern, Utkin said he does not believe that Italy will bear the brunt.

“I don’t’ believe that Italy is the European hotbed of coronavirus. It’s more or less the same everywhere. If you take the percentage [of tests], it’ll turn out, I think, that other countries have had it worse, even.”

With Italy’s hospitals filled to the brim with coronavirus patients, suspected and confirmed, authorities have scaled back their zeal for testing, and are now screening only those who display particular symptoms or are considered to be at risk of complications.

Those who don’t have any symptoms – they are not getting tested. Youth under 30 – are not getting tested… They understood they had gone overboard. Nobody is hushing this up, but only those who have clear symptoms are getting tested

‘You’re unlikely to be jailed for roaming the streets, but prepare to pay up’

While the new nationwide quarantine rules are still to be elaborated by Italian PM Giuseppe Conte, Utkin believes that they are unlikely to differ much from the ones that were imposed on Lombardy and 14 neighboring provinces over the weekend.

The measure saw residents filling out special police forms if they wanted to move outside the quarantined area; if caught doing so without a permit, they could face three months in jail or a fine of €206.

The threat of serving real jail time is unlikely to ever materialize, Utkin believes, in light of overcrowded jails and coronavirus-related riots staged by inmates. The government would be “glad” to earn an extra dime by fining violators, however.

Despite seeming harsh on paper, they were not strictly enforced in practice, according to the journalist, who said “It sufficed to have printed out the form and note that you were travelling due to health reasons or for work.”

‘I’ve never seen a crisis like this’

Italy will be reeling from the economic damage caused by the outbreak for years to come, the expert told RT, predicting the country’s GDP might plummet as much as 10 percent in the first quarter of 2020.

“It would be a colossal slump, I don’t know how it will recover,” Utkin said, adding that the outbreak has completely “killed” the country’s burgeoning tourism and restaurant industries.

Utkin is convinced that Italy will ask for financial assistance from the international community, but noted it will hardly be enough to offset the losses its economy has already suffered.

“Italy has never fallen so deeply. I have not seen a crisis like this, in terms of economy as well as privacy.” 

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