A VIRUS GOES VIRAL: CAUTION VS FEAR
I don’t know if you are keeping up with the coronavirus and Italy news. We are all a little confounded as what we see as fear and panic in the US, US groups cancelling trips to Rome in March, etc. but as far as I have heard, no similar indications from other countries. Life seems to be normal here (it is always quieter in January and February) notwithstanding CDC reports about Italy and the coronavirus.
In fact, people are amazed at some of the reports coming from the US, especially the fact that a few US universities closed their campuses in Florence and sent the students home when, in fact, there seemed to be no rationale to do so. Closings seem to have been based on pressures by school administrators and parents, and many of the students here are frustrated and disappointed at the possibility that their Rome campus might close. They sense panic from mainly the US, a panic or fear we do not generally see in visitors to Italy from other countries.
Obviously what I am saying is not scientific and I have not gone all over the city to do a survey all but I do see restaurants doing business, busses filled, Masses being celebrated in places other than the north, people doing their usual marketing, no runs on food, etc. I have no idea if there is a run on masks simply because I have not asked or walked around checking on pharmacies but I may just try to do that. In any case, authorities and doctors, especially in the US, are saying to wear masks only if you are sick, not as a block to becoming ill. So far, I have seen only the occasional mask in Rome, not high numbers.
I do not mean in anyway to downplay the seriousness of the coronavirus. We must be vigilant, take precautions (washing hands, using hand sanitizer, coughing into elbows, etc), follow the advice of experts and doctors and yes, avoid venues frequented by large numbers of people such as sporting events in order to avoid contagion.
What is really strange is that no one seems to be minimally concerned about flu-related statistics ! And the flu, by the way, can be transmitted the same way as the coronavirus, so the same precautions should be taken but no one is writing about that. If anything should cause fear, it’s probably the flu.
Some flu statistics (from the CDC):
· Key Updates for Week 8, ending February 22, 2020 – Key indicators that track flu activity remain high but decreased for the second week in a row. Severity indicators (hospitalizations and deaths) remain moderate to low overall, but hospitalization rates differ by age group, with high rates among children and young adults.
· CDC estimates that so far this season (a season is usually considered to start in October and end towards the end of March or early April), there have been at least 32 million flu illnesses, 310,000 hospitalizations and 18,000 deaths from flu. (https://www.cdc.gov/flu/weekly/index.htm)
310,000 hospitalizations! 18,000 deaths in just the US!
Why have those numbers not frightened people? No fear or panic about the hospitalizations or deaths! Why are people not advised to take precautions all throughout a flu season?
And flu news from Italy (that has its equivalent of the CDC):
(ANSA) – Rome, January 22 – The Higher Health Institute (ISS) said Wednesday that 488,000 people were hit in Italy by the flu in the third week of January. It said that this took the number of people to have been hit by this season’s flu virus up to 2.768 million.
Since the start of flu season in October 2019, 2,768,000 cases across the country have been confirmed by laboratory tests, according to data from InfluNet published on January 19. A total of 488,000 cases were reported last week alone, signalling that flu season is hitting its peak in January as predicted. 240 deaths have so far been reported, slightly lower than the expected 258. Most of the fatal cases are elderly patients who suffered complications after contracting the virus.
What is life like now in Italy? Here is a well-balanced article that should not, in reasonable, clear-thinking people, induce fear or panic about living in or coming to Italy:
ITALY SHOWS JUST HOW CRAZY CORONAVIRUS PANIC CAN GET
Italians refused to go to Chinese restaurants and shops when the virus first emerged. Now they are being shunned worldwide. The stigma is spreading faster than the virus itself.
ROME–Ah, the smell of hand sanitizer in a public space. At least that’s the first thing you notice almost anywhere in Italy right now. The next, of course, is the masks and furrowed brows. While words like “epicenter” and “emergency” seem to tell the story of a massive plague gripping the country, the reality is that the real problem is not fear of catching the virus, but fear of getting caught up in the global reaction to it.
Even while European Union health ministers braved the “threat” and came to Rome this week to announce solidarity and plead that there is no need to close the borders to stem the spread, several countries and lots of companies are doing it anyway.
Late Friday, the Trump administration raised the safety threat level to the ominous “level 3,” which will almost certainly set off a global panic attack about this country.
Yet, even so, half a dozen American study abroad programs had already yanked their students out of Florence even though the city is not part of the current lockdown and there are only a couple cases in all of Tuscany. Most of the rest followed suit after Trump’s heightened alert. British Airways cancelled direct flights to Milan citing a “decreased demand” and Israel and Mauritius banned all flights from Italy no matter where they take off from. An Italian journalist even got shut out of a hotel he had reserved in Greece just because he was coming from Rome. Greece! How could you?
Italy’s hotel federation says that just one week into the crisis, the cancellation rate for reservations has shot to 70 percent in Milan and 40 percent in Rome. Those numbers will skyrocket now that the U.S. has told Americans to “reconsider” travel to Italy. That’s bad news for this tourism-dependent country since one of the biggest tourist seasons is Easter, a few weeks away.
But does cancelling your trip to the bel paese make sense? The experts say no.
Dr. Adrian Hyzler, chief medical officer of Healix International, says it is far too late to restrict travel to and from Italy and other places. The virus is now in nearly 60 countries, and he says trying to single out a few with higher numbers of infections is counterproductive. “You cannot stop air travel without huge repercussions,” he told The Daily Beast. “To restrict travel now would be to shut the stable door after the horse has bolted! And anyway, how on earth would you do it on the continent? It’s practically impossible.”
Hyzler notes that the World Health Organization put out a statement saying travel restrictions should be “consistent and proportionate to local risk assessment” which means cancelling travel to a city like Rome, where just three people were infected, including two Chinese tourists and a researcher who flew in from China who have since recovered completely, doesn’t make sense.
Still, the number of cancellations will almost definitely strain, if not destroy, the smaller tourism entities. “The world’s governments are trying desperately to calm the understandable panic as this would paralyze the world, with much greater knock-on effects for health care, poverty and the economy.”
It is hard to deny that infected Italians are spreading the virus. The first cases in at least 14 countries, including Mexico, Brazil and Nigeria, have been infected Italians who traveled to those regions from northern Italy, possibly subjecting everyone on their flight along the way. But experts argue that it would have likely happened anyway, it’s just that the Italians got there first.
Harvard epidemiology professor Marc Lipsitch suggested to The Atlantic this week that trying to stop the unstoppable will only make it seem worse. “I think the likely outcome is that it will ultimately not be containable,” he said, adding that many who test positive won’t even know they have it. “It’s likely that many will have mild disease, or may be asymptomatic.”
It could also be a case of what you don’t know really won’t hurt you. In Italy, authorities concede that perhaps they’ve gone a little crazy with the number of tests they have carried out, which has topped 12,000 so far with more than 821 positive results, compared to under 500 carried out in all of the U.S. The civil protection agency in Italy gives daily statistics, like they do when there is a major earthquake or other natural disaster. But the number of infected now also includes the number of positive cases where the person has no symptoms at all in an attempt, it would seem, to keep the population yet unaffected from freaking out completely. The figure is near half of all positive cases who wouldn’t even know they were carrying the virus had someone not stuck a swab down their throat or up their nose.
The more than 20 deaths so far in the country all occurred in patients who had serious health conditions. They most likely died “with” coronavirus, not because of it.
Still, the world is panicking and now those Italians who wouldn’t go into Chinese restaurants when the virus first broke the confines of China are feeling xenophobia against them. When four Italian guests tested positive in a resort in Tenerife in the Canary Islands off Spain, travel companies started calling other Italians to say they needed medical certificates if they lived in the north of the country. Would you feel uncomfortable if an Italian group checked in to the hotel room next to you?
“In just over 48 hours we have gone from a safe country, without a single valid or logical reason, to be a European cluster,” Italy’s tourism federation said in a statement Friday. “Part of that is due to hysterical communication that does not take into account the real security conditions of the country. The consequences are an avalanche of cancellations, missed reservations, and closing of the Italian travel market that have no justification.”
It must be noted that while Italy will have a hard time denying that it is not part of the problem at the moment, closing the country off is almost certainly not the solution.