Can Italy contain the coronavirus outbreak?

Mudassir Ali
Mar 12, 2020 01:30 PM 0 Answers
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Mudassir Ali
- Mar 12, 2020 01:31 PM

No one knows. Because Italy faces a unique challenge compared to other countries with major coronavirus outbreak.

Their recent lockdown tactic seems like an act of desperation to me, but I’m not quite sure if it’ll work out.

I don’t want to get too into my assessment of China. I don’t trust the Chinese government’s reports on the coronavirus. Plus I’m not Chinese, so I don’t really know what China looks like.

But looks are very important when it comes to fighting the coronavirus.

Look at this chart. Despite its government transparency, South Korea reported only 58 deaths out of 7,513 cases. That is a fatality rate of only 0.7%. It is the lowest among adequate enough sample data.

Now previously, I mentioned looks and that it’s important.

Here’s what I mean:

This is what a typical neighborhood in South Korea looks like.

Lines and lines of cement apartment buildings. It’s not the most picturesque look.

This is what a typical neighborhood in Italy looks like.

Yes, very picturesque and looks nice. Very well dispersed and a lot more buildings. Doesn’t cover the sky.

But do you see the problem here? If you want to test a thousand people in an Italian neighborhood, then the officials will have to either set up a testing booth in the neighborhood and have the residents line up voluntarily, or they will have to bang on the doors house-to-house. It’s extremely inefficient, unreliable, and resource-intensive. (voluntary inspections where the consequence of an infection is quarantine rarely works out)

But if you want to test a thousand people in a Korean neighborhood. All they have to do is set up a testing station per building, and test each person as they pass the entrance. Each building houses hundreds of residents and the government would only need to set up around-the-clock two testing stations to test that thousand people.

This is why a greater population density works to the advantage of containing the coronavirus. Because less exits means less health workers required for testing. And earlier diagnosis can save lives and prevent further spread.

I’d imagine China having a fairly lucrative opportunity for testing a large segment of its population similar to how South Korea did.

But a country like Italy, where people prefer to live dispersed in houses rather than condensed in tall apartment buildings, and most housing is done in smaller buildings, it’s going to be a challenge to contain the coronavirus, because they’ll struggle to spot the infected that need to be quarantined.

And so far, Italy is the very first experiment for how a Western urban layout can contain a highly contagious and stealthy epidemic

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