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Italy’s “Darkest Hour”: Life Grinds to a Halt Amid COVID-19 Lockdown, as Death Toll Spikes

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We get an update from Italy, where 60 million people are under an unprecedented nationwide lockdown and the death toll has increased to at least 827, rising by 31% in just 24 hours. Authorities ordered all shops closed except food markets and pharmacies. Italy’s economy has all but ground to a halt, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte describing the outbreak as the country’s “darkest hour.” Italian journalist Antonella Serrecchia joins us from Milan, where she is a reporter for the online magazine The Vision.

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: We end the show in Italy, where 60 million people are under an unprecedented nationwide lockdown and the death toll has increased to at least 827. Rome’s Ciampino Airport will shut down all passenger flights starting Friday, and Rome’s main airport will close a terminal. Authorities ordered all shops closed except food markets and pharmacies. Italy’s economy has all but ground to a halt.

AMY GOODMAN: Among the recent dead is Roberto Stella, the head of the medical association in a northern Italian province. Italian doctors have warned doctors across Europe to prepare for COVID-19. In a letter to the European Society of Intensive Care Medicine, they reveal up to 10% of all people infected with the new coronavirus need intensive care. For more, we go to Milan to speak with the Italian journalist Antonella Serrecchia, a reporter for The Vision, an online magazine.

Antonella, welcome to Democracy Now! I know that you’re under the total lockdown right now, as is everyone else. Describe what you’re seeing. We haven’t even mentioned the prison uprisings, prisoners fearful all over Italy what will happen to them, as well.

ANTONELLA SERRECCHIA: Yeah, hi, and thank you for having me. Yeah, I am at my place right now. I live in the suburbs. So, if I look out of my window, I don’t see much difference from normal everyday life, as it’s not very busy even normally. But I am pretty sure that if you go to the city center, it would be quite shocking, because, as you said earlier, all the shops, except for pharmacies and grocery shops and some other shops that provide essential services, are closed right now. So, I mean, the traffic, of course, is less than usual, and there are not so many people in the streets. And as you mentioned, the riots that are happening right now in jails are also, yeah, very strictly related to the coronavirus containment measures, as it’s obvious that for people that also normally have maybe one or two hours of freedom, this is very heavy to bear for three weeks. And this is why they are protesting.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: What the situation is in hospitals in Italy? I mean, there’s a massive burden on them to treat all of the people who’ve been infected and also to carry out tests. The University of Milan has reportedly graduated nurses early so that they can work in hospitals and alleviate the stress that doctors and nurses are under.

ANTONELLA SERRECCHIA: Yeah, you’re right. Eighty-seven nurses were able to graduate one month earlier, just to go in hospitals and help. The situation is quite bad, because even if in Lombardy we do have a good healthcare system, as — in Italy, the healthcare is managed by regions, so it’s not the same in every region, but in Lombardy, we do have a pretty efficient healthcare system. Even so, as you said, most of the — a lot of the people need intensive care, and this puts a lot of pressure on hospitals, because, in general, we do have a problem with understaffed hospitals. We do lack professionals working in the system. And even though in the last 10 years or so budget was higher year by year, it increased by around 1% per year, but at the same time the inflation rate was higher, so this meant in the end a cut in the budget. So the emergency right now is putting a lot of pressure on the healthcare system.

AMY GOODMAN: Antonella, we just have about 40 seconds. Italy’s death toll from the coronavirus rose by 31%, by a third, in the space of just 24 hours, to a total of 827. Are people living in serious fear right now? I mean, the idea that your entire country is on lockdown.

ANTONELLA SERRECCHIA: I mean, yes, I think people are afraid right now. And the fact that hospitals are put on so much pressure, now they are using different criterias to admit people in hospitals. So, it normally is first come, first served. Right now they do evaluate as well the chance of surviving. So —

AMY GOODMAN: And are tests available, unlike in the United States, right now in Italy?

ANTONELLA SERRECCHIA: They are. I mean, I’m looking right now at the official figures. And we run, as of yesterday, 63,000 tests, roughly.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, we’re going to have to leave it there, but we’re going to check back with you in these coming days. Far more than the tests that have been done in the United States of America. Antonella Serrecchia, Italian journalist at the online magazine The Vision. I’m Amy Goodman, with Nermeen Shaikh. A very Happy Birthday to Adriano Contreras!

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