Wednesday was the last day of comparative normality for a little while for us here in New Zealand. At midnight the “Level four” lockdown commenced. Those not working in essential services (healthcare, food supply chain etc) are meant to stay home for the next four weeks and only venture out into their local area to exercise and get some fresh air, or to get groceries. We have written up a timetable for the family so that we can fit school work, play, exercise, house work and real work into each day. We are also planning on getting some family biking in around the neighbourhood. Hopefully the timetable will prevent us from going stir-crazy…
The point of the lockdown is to slow the spread of the infection throughout the community and to avoid the overwhelming of our healthcare facilities. What concerns our national leaders is that we will end up like Italy – thousands of new cases of the virus each day, hundreds of deaths, and hospitals and healthcare workers overworked and stressed. Reading Chiara Bertoglio’s piece from a couple of weeks ago gives a glimpse of the Italian life in the middle of the outbreak. According to the current figures, Italy has the highest official death toll at nearly 7,000 people and the second highest number of cases at 69,000.
(Although I trust the Chinese Communist figures not at all and would not be surprised if they are much higher. Speaking of trustworthiness, who still believes anything the WHO says? It seems as if everything it says either originates from the Chinese Communist Party or is vetted by it first…)
Leaving a large asterisk beside China’s numbers (as well as Iran’s, actually, and Russia’s and North Korea’s) the question is being asked: why is Italy being affected so badly? And what can other nations learn from the Italian experience?
As this piece notes, there seem to be two reasons for Italy’s large number of deaths. The first is that the Wuhan Flu is much more dangerous to the elderly than to the young. No one is quite sure why that is yet, however there are some reasonable-sounding hypotheses: the young have lungs in very good shape (not ravaged by time, smoking, pollution, pollen etc etc) while the elderly tend to have weaker respiratory systems, making them far more vulnerable. This is a problem for a country like Italy which has the second oldest population in the world. 23 per cent of the Italian population is over the age of 65 (in the US that proportion is only 16 per cent).
However, this doesn’t fully explain Italy’s predicament. The oldest country in the world is Japan, and it has managed to keep the number of infections and deaths to quite low levels. The second reason given for the severity of the virus in Italy is the intermingling between the generations. It is believed that the communal living of Italians generally, whereby young Italians interact a lot with their elders, is contributing to the spread of the disease. While a lot of younger Italians might live with their parents and grandparents in rural areas, they will then commute to work in places like Milan. This frequent travel to and from cities may have exacerbated the silent spread of the virus: large crowds in the city spread the disease to those who then leave the city and inadvertently infect their elders.
We hope and pray that the Wuhan Flu will quickly be brought under control in Italy and throughout the world. May the exceptionally widespread and unprecedented quarantine and isolation measures work quickly to slow the spread and may the most vulnerable, particularly the elderly, be spared this disease.
Marcus Roberts is co-editor of Demography is Destiny, MercatorNet’s blog on population issues.