Italy has the largest number of coronavirus cases outside China, where the outbreak started, but which factors that might have contributed to that?
Coronavirus may have gone undetected in the country since late January
The first person to test positive in the north of Italy who had not been to China was confirmed to have coronavirus on February 21. By that stage the 38-year-old man had already infected his wife and several doctors, nurses and patients at the hospital where he had attended with flu-like symptoms three days earlier.
Experts now think the virus may have been present and spreading in northern Italy since at least the second half of January.
Italy has a high population of older people
Dr Giovanni Rezza, head of infectious disease at the National Institutes of Health, has attributed Italy’s high death rate to the fact that the country has the world’s oldest population after Japan. Most of those who have died are elderly with previous health issues.
For that very reason the high death rate is not surprising, said Professor Marina Della Giusta from the department of economics at the University of Reading.
“The little we know so far of this virus is that it has much higher mortality rates for older people, at least that’s what the Chinese data suggests so far.
“Italy is the oldest country in Europe probably so that won’t be surprising. The demographic affected is way bigger than it would be in lots of other places.”
Movement between regions did not stop when schools were shut
Professor Della Giusta, who is originally from the Piedmont region in the north-west of the country, said many people did not take self-isolation measures very seriously when schools were first closed in northern regions a few weeks ago.
“When schools got shut in Lombardy a lot of people just took their kids and went off on holiday to their holiday homes in the mountains and at the seaside in the other regions. They thought they were making their kids safe by taking them away, but this kind of behaviour is really very damaging.”