The COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic poses two threats: public health and economic.
I am living in Italy, where my wife Callista is the Ambassador to the Holy See.
I have watched first-hand as the Italian government has worked hard to contain the coronavirus by imposing strong public health measures to try to get the epidemic under control. These measures will lead to significant economic challenges.
As I write:
- All schools are closed in all of Italy.
- All churches are closed (including St. Peter’s Basilica).
- All weddings and funerals are postponed.
- All restaurants are closed.
- In fact, all stores except grocery stores and pharmacies are closed.
- People are urged to work from home unless they work in special designated factories
The streets are almost empty.
These steps are not an overreaction. The coronavirus is out of control of in Northern Italy. As of 6 pm local / 1 pm EST on March 10, there were 15,113 total cases in Italy, with 12,839 active cases, 1,016 deaths, and 1,258 recoveries. There are 162 total cases here in Rome.
The hardest-hit region around Milan has had to improvise as its health system has been deeply stressed by the sheer number of patients. In Milan and Brescia, field hospitals have been set up in the fairgrounds as the local hospitals have been drowned in patients.
Because the demand for respirators and intensive care has been beyond any previous planning, doctors have been forced into the kind of triage thinking developed for intense battlefield casualty situations. There are reports that emergency room doctors are allotting respirators to those with higher life expectancy due to the limited equipment in the hardest-hit areas of the province. If you are older or have other illnesses, you may simply not be eligible for treatment.
The impact of restricting travel is clear and continuing. The No. 2 airports in Milan and Rome are being closed. The main airports in Italy’s two largest cities have radically decreased flights – and many of them are almost empty.
On Thursday, 158 passengers arrived in Rome on direct flights from the United States. Italy depends on 14 percent of its total economy from tourism. Last year, Rome attracted 15.2 million tourists. The Colosseum alone attracted an average of 21,000 tourists a day. Now the Colosseum is closed.
There are some significant lessons from Italy for Americans who want to get through this pandemic with minimum loss of life and economic damage.
President Trump was right to cut off travel from China as soon as it was clear how big the pandemic was going to be. He saved American lives and bought time for America to be more prepared as the pandemic developed.
When you realize that the current 1,016 deaths in Italy with a population of 60 million would be the equivalent of 5,400 deaths in the United States instead of the 41 deaths we have had so far, you can see what milder, slower, and less aggressive responses might have cost in lives. Then we would have needed to move to truly draconian measures of isolation and shutdowns.
By the same standard, President Trump was exactly right to ban travel from Europe. In fact, he was following the advice of his best medical experts.
Read more here.