The Italian authorities are trying hard to get a grip on the spread of the new corona virus. Follow the example of China, says World Health Organization WHO. But how do you strike a balance between the need for intervention and the rights of citizens?
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The WHO praises the "robust" Chinese approach to the crisis. "Hundreds of thousands of people in China have not contracted COVID-19 due to these aggressive interventions," said WHO envoy Bruce Aylward earlier this week after a visit to the country. "You know, if I had COVID-19, I'd rather be treated in China."
In his judgment, Aylward ignored the ethical implications that the hermetically closing off of metropolitan cities entails. The Chinese government's tight control of information about the virus, the disappearances of critics and various cases of juggling statistics were also not mentioned by him. Beijing can afford such measures politically, but that is a lot harder for Rome.
The Italian government has since taken a number of drastic measures. Eleven villages in the province of Lombardy have been placed under quarantine. The approximately 50,000 residents are not allowed to leave their places of residence, on pain of a fine or imprisonment. The access roads are blocked by the police and the army. Events throughout northern Italy have been canceled and the Venice Carnival ended prematurely. Museums and other attractions keep their doors closed.
In the meantime, 323 cases of COVID-19 infection have been confirmed in Italy. Eleven people died from the effects of the virus.
'Patient zero' possibly missed due to flight ban
The Italian interventions can count on international praise, but there is also criticism. Apparent mistakes have been made. The hospital in Codogno, for example, did not quarantine the first known Italian corona patient, which allowed him to infect fellow patients, doctors and nurses.
A second point of criticism concerns the search for patient zero , the person who brought the new corona virus into Italy. It has still not been found and the Italian Government may have blamed it on itself. A controversial ban on flights to and from China, which was introduced at the end of January, did not prevent people from traveling to Italy via a third country. As a result, it was no longer possible to monitor entry closely and patient zero escaped detection.
To stop the virus, it is necessary to map how it has spread. As long as patient zero is unknown, a number of links in that chain may be missing.
South Korea is a better parallel for Italy than China
South Korea is still the most affected country after China. The number of confirmed cases of infection was 1,261 on Wednesday afternoons, of which twelve were fatal. As a liberal democracy, it is a more related companion to Italy than totalitarian China.
The South Korean critics are also not tender in their opinion: their government is chasing developments, they say. The number of confirmed cases of infection rose remarkably fast last week, after the South Korean health care system started to move and large-scale testing took place. The coronavirus appeared to have spread to every province and major city in the country.
South Korean hospitals raise the alarm about staff shortages and things like bedding and protective clothing.
It was only last Sunday that the alarm level was raised and the authorities were given the authority to close schools and curb air traffic. The borders with China are still open and the South Korean government has transport companies decide for themselves whether they will temporarily stop their scheduled services to and from Daegu.
A cleaner disinfects an ambulance at a hospital in the South Korea city of Daegu. (Photo: Reuters)
Life goes on in 'Daegu', the source of infection
The epicenter of the South Korean outbreak is the city of Daegu (2.5 million inhabitants) in the southeast. In the meantime, the local authorities are proceeding more actively there. The body temperature of everyone who arrives or departs by train is measured, cleaners in protective clothing spray public areas with disinfectants and the residents stay at home as much as possible.
But the metropolis is not formally closed off from the outside world. Citizens are still free to move - and not every employer in Daegu adheres to the advice to let employees stay at home. Fragments of normal life just go on.
The governments of Italy and South Korea have a problem: the rapid spread of the corona virus forces major steps, but the space that modern democracy offers for this is limited. The two are probably not the only countries that will have to find an answer to this before the crisis surrounding the virus is contained.
See also: The coronavirus summarized: these are the most important facts
The COVID-19 virus (coronavirus) in short
- The virus spreads mainly through cough and sneeze drops that hang in the air for a short time. Anyone who shows no symptoms is hardly a risk of infection.
- Someone can infect two or three others on average (less than, for example, measles). However, this figure is falling due to all precautions.
- The vast majority have mild (flu-like) symptoms.
- Almost all deaths concern older or already sick people.