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Italy’s coronavirus outbreak now looks worse than Iran’s, as infections and deaths keep rising

Tourists wearing protective masks walk in St. Peter’s square at the Vatican, on March 3, 2020.


Italy is now the worst-affected country from the coronavirus outside Asia, overtaking Iran in terms of the number of deaths and infections from the virus. 

The death toll in Italy jumped to 79 on Tuesday, up from an official total of 52 on Monday. As of Wednesday morning, there are 2,502 cases of the virus in Italy, according to Italian media reports that are updated ahead of the daily official count, published by Italy’s Civil Protection Agency every evening. 

Italy’s coronavirus numbers have now surpassed Iran’s official infection count. The Islamic Republic has 2,336 cases of the virus and has recorded 77 deaths, although there is speculation over the accuracy of Iran’s tally of the epidemic.

The outbreak of the coronavirus has centered on Italy’s wealthy northern regions of Lombardy (with 1,520 cases), Veneto (307 cases) and Emilia-Romagna (420 cases). But it has spread throughout the country and now only one out of Italy’s 20 regions, Valle D’Aosta, is yet to record a case.

Italy’s health authorities said Tuesday they may set up a new quarantine area, a so-called “red zone,” to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak, Reuters reported.

“None of us can be sure about the future evolution of the disease. This is an important week to understand what will happen,” Angelo Borrelli, head of the Civil Protection Agency, told a news conference Tuesday. A new quarantined area could be declared around the city of Bergamo, northeast of Milan, to try to stem a sharp rise in cases there.

Italy’s government has already set up red zones in Lombardy and Veneto, in which there are a combined 11 towns quarantined with no inhabitants allowed to leave. Public life has been severely affected in those zones, as well as in “yellow zones” where free movement is allowed but schools, sports venues and many bars and restaurants are closed.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte didn’t rule out the closure of all schools in the country on Tuesday, and recommendations have reportedly been sent to Italy’s ministry of health for all Italians, not just those in the most-affected areas, saying that elderly people should stay at home, and that the public should avoid crowded places with no handshaking.

Italy’s hospitals and particularly those in the north are stretched. One ambulance driver for hospitals in Codogno and Lodi, both in the “red zone” in Lombardy, told La Repubblica newspaper that the authorities were waiting to see if the epidemic had passed or whether “the emergency is still at the beginning.” “Hours (will be) decisive, if the infection spreads it will be hard,” he said.

China is now reporting cases that have come from Italy. U.S. Vice President Mike Pence said the U.S. was screening all travelers coming on direct flights from Italy (as well as South Korea) and Wizz Air was the latest airline to cut some flights, mainly to Italy, from March 11.

Drag on Europe

There are widespread expectations that Italy’s economy will enter a recession because of the outbreak. Italy, the euro zone’s third largest economy, was a problematic member of the single currency bloc even before it became the country worst hit by the coronavirus. Italy was previous only expected to grow a meager 0.5% in 2020.

Giovanni Di Lieto, lecturer in International Business and Economics at Australia’s Monash University, said Italy could drag other countries down with it.

“The Italian economy will enter into recession, possibly dragging down the rest of Europe, particularly those countries whose manufacturing supply chains are most connected with Italy, such as Germany, France, Austria and the Balkan nations,” he said in a note Tuesday.

“This impact will be felt across Europe long after the coronavirus crisis will be quashed, particularly in terms of economic growth and capital investment.”