“919 people die of coronavirus in Italy in 24 hours, the highest 1-day toll for a country.” (March 28, 2020)

“Death toll due to coronavirus in Italy crosses 10,000 after 889 die in 24 hours.” (March 29, 2020)

“US records its biggest one-day rise in deaths as coronavirus in the USA claims 865.” (April 1, 2020)

“Italy’s coronavirus fatality rate at an all-time high after death toll rises to 12,428.” (April 1, 2020)

“US records most coronavirus deaths in a day by any country as 1,169 dies.” (April 3, 2020)

Every day the news is filled with deaths claimed by coronavirus all across the globe, with Italy and the USA topping the list every time. The rise in the number of infected cases in both Italy and the USA has been a steep one. The USA leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases and Europe has now become the ‘epicenter’ of the pandemic. Italy and Spain had surpassed China long back and many more European countries – Germany, France – follow close by. Maria Van Kerkhove, head of WHO’s emerging diseases unit, said, “It’s impossible for us to say when this will peak globally. We hope that it is sooner rather than later.” There’s still a lot that we don’t know about this virus and there’s no available antidote as of now. Social distancing, frequent hand-washing are regarded as the best available means to flatten the curve of the pandemic. However, despite following this and implementing country-wide lockdowns, why hasn’t Italy or the USA been able to control the spread?

One reason that has led to the spread of coronavirus in Italy and the USA and other European countries is tourism. France, Spain, the USA, China, and Italy are the top five visited countries by international tourists. It isn’t a coincidence that the same countries also appear among the top countries affected by the coronavirus. By the time the countries imposed national quarantines or lockdowns, it was already too late and the infection had crept its way in. In addition to this, there are high volumes of business between the countries and despite the lockdown, people were bound to travel, especially in the initial few days of the lockdown. For instance, there are more than 300,000 Chinese people working in Italy and some were traveling back to Italy after Chinese New Year on January 25. It imposed a lockdown on March 10, 2020, and by then it had already reported around 7,500 cases.

Focussing on Europe, experts are saying that Europeans are ‘paying the price for living in open, affluent democracies, where people are used to freeing movement, easy travel and, like the citizens aren’t used to following strict decisions, the government isn’t used to giving them’. Italy, in particular, is more susceptible to this virus as it has the second-highest percentage of population above the age of 65 years – 23 percent. The country’s fatality rate is close to 10 percent, much higher than the global average of 3.4 percent (according to the WHO). The Health Institute of Italy stated that 86 percent of the fatalities were among those aged above 70. This is mainly because the chances of a weak immune system are higher in older people and since coronavirus causes respiratory illness, their mortality rate is expected to be higher. Even though the outbreak showed initial signs of slowdown after three weeks, Italy is still wrestling with the world’s deadliest pandemic. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is all set to prolong the lockdown for another two weeks beyond the current April 3 deadline.

The USA is on the same trajectory as Italy. By some counts, the USA is just eight days behind Italy on a similar trajectory. And it might be worse for the USA, seeing that it is less prepared and has fewer doctors and hospital beds per capita than Italy does. Some say that it is in a weaker position as it is the only advanced country that doesn’t have universal health coverage. The USA already leads the world in the number of coronavirus cases. It is interesting to know that South Korea reported its first case on the same day as the US, and yet it has seen cases go down more than 90 percent from the peak. This is mainly because of the prompt action taken by the government with respect to testing. On the other hand, Donald Trump was still in the denial state, saying it was ‘totally under control’ and ‘will disappear’. It wasn’t until recently that he admitted to the grim nature of this pandemic. On March 29, he said that federal coronavirus guidelines such as social distancing would be extended until at least April 30, unlike the earlier suggestion of opening up sections of the country during the ‘beautiful time’ of Easter – 10-13 April.

Within the USA, New York has been the most affected. Almost 40 percent of the total cases of coronavirus in the USA have been recorded here. The main reason behind this is that New York includes New York City which is the most densely populated city in the USA, with a population of around 8.5 million. Nicknamed as ‘the City that Never Sleeps’, NYC is the only city in the world where the subway does not close and witnesses the most international visitors among the US cities. The effect of coronavirus on the city can be seen on the streets. Everything from schools to offices, theatres to restaurants has been deserted. By March 15, the city that never sleeps had become a ghost town. However, despite this, the damage had already been done and there is a need for some bold actions.

It is imperative that people abide strictly to the lockdown guidelines and follow the basic steps of social distancing and hand-washing all across the globe. The impact of such big interventions takes time to show. It took three weeks for Wuhan, China to start to reverse things. This is mainly because symptoms of coronavirus take about 2-14 days to start showing and it takes time to test infected persons, especially since there’s a lack of health-care infrastructure worldwide. Thus, it may look like measures such as self-quarantine, school closures, and social distancing are not working, even if they are. So, stay home and stay safe!

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