March 2, 2021


ITALY: Still waiting for a change of gear in the fight against Covid-19

BY Wolfango Piccoli

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( 3 mins)

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government on 2 March was putting the final touches to a decree with a new regime of Covid-19 restrictions that is expected to be in force from next weekend until 6 April, the day after Easter Monday. The current system of tiered restrictions based on a region’s contagion risk level (low-risk white, moderate-risk yellow, medium-risk orange, and high-risk red) is set to remain. A ban on traveling between regions, except for work or health reasons or other situations of need, looks set to stay too

Last week, the government ramped up restrictions in five of the country’s 20 regions to head off a rise in Covid-19 cases as scientists warned of the growing prevalence of highly contagious new variants. For the first time since the end of January, two regions – Basilicata and Molise – were shunted into the strictest red zone. Three other regions moved from yellow to orange zones: Lombardy, Piedmont, and Marche.

The total number of new cases reported on 1 March was 13,114, but the rate topped the 17,000-infection benchmark in each of the previous four days, a level previously not seen since mid-January. The total number of active cases nationally climbed to 424,333, still well below its all-time peak of more than 800,000 from 22 November but representing the first sustained climb for that indicator in more than three months.

On 1 March, Draghi appointed army general Francesco Paolo Figliuolo as the country’s new Covid-19 emergency commissioner, replacing Domenico Arcuri. Draghi also appointed a new head of Italy’s Department for Civil Protection, Fabrizio Curcio. The leadership changes are part of the government’s plan to overhaul the vaccination program, with Draghi repeatedly saying that picking up speed is a priority since he took office in mid-February.

As of 2 March, Italy has administered 4.3 million shots (around 70% of the total supplied so far) in total since the vaccination rollout began just over two months ago. Currently, around 108k doses are being administered daily; at this rate, Italy would not meet its stated target of vaccinating most of the adult population until December 2021, instead of September as hoped. Italy has now fallen to 25th place among 27 EU states in terms of distribution rate for the first vaccine dose, covering about 4.2% of the adult population.

As part of the revamped vaccination strategy, Italy is like to follow the UK example of making it a priority to give first jabs to as many people as possible without setting aside some of the vaccines for second shots. More facilities – public and private – are also likely to be used to speed up the rollout, which will likely see greater involvement of the military, civil protection, and volunteers.

Looking ahead, it will be critical for Draghi to mark a decisive break in the handling of the pandemic and the vaccinations from the previous administration. Leaving aside the recent appointments mentioned above, the government’s approach has been underpinned by much continuity with the past regarding the tools used to tackle the pandemic. Meanwhile, the public is getting increasingly frustrated and confused by dissonant messages and confused priorities spread by officials, health experts, regional governors, and others. Polls suggest that the public has a high level of confidence in Draghi, but Italians are worn out and increasingly disillusioned. Draghi must make his mark quickly to prevent the politicians from exploiting the situation to launch a slow attrition war against his administration.

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