In Italy, alternatives to lockdown are inferior. Interview with Alessandro Cigno of the University of Florence.

The world still struggles about a convincing strategy to handle the #coronavirus crisis. Radical alternatives focus around (i) herd immunity and selective social distancing and (ii) a total lockdown of the economy and the entire society. In previous posts the GLO website was reporting about the strategy of lockdown, the societal consequences and the arguments against it, and the alternative Swedish strategy. Today we listen to a feedback from Italy, the country hit hardest first after China.

Some core messages of the interview:

  • The course of the contagion is the same everywhere.
  • Italy is on its way out of the crisis.
  • It started in the most populated North with global connections, affecting the most vulnerable.
  • Italy has an efficient public health system which managed the crisis.
  • The radical lockdown had no alternative and saved very many lives.
  • The missing European solidarity may result in the end of European unification.

GLO Fellow Alessandro Cigno is a Professor of Economics at the University of Florence, and Editor of the Journal of Population Economics.


GLO: The coronacrisis in Italy has become a terrible catastrophe, and there is no end in sight…..

Alessandro Cigno: ….not quite true that there is no end in sight in Italy. The number of contagions has stabilized, and the number of intensive care cases is decreasing , the number cured or dead is larger than the number of new cases…..

GLO: But what can the other countries learn from the Italian experiences? Why was the coronavirus affecting Italy suddenly like a tsunami?

Alessandro Cigno: The course of the contagion is the same everywhere. It just started earlier in Italy.

GLO: Why has the disease largely affected first the North and so much the Old?

Alessandro Cigno: The North is more densely populated and has more intense relations with the rest of the world. The old are more likely to have other pathologies.

GLO: What role played the openness of the country, the strength of the healthcare system and the strong family relationships in the Italian culture? What role played missing data and slow government response?

Alessandro Cigno: Openness facilitated the contagion. Fortunately we have an efficient public health system. But the number of intensive care beds per 1000 inhabitants, while double that of the UK, was initially half of that of France and one third that of Germany. That number has been raised very quickly. Strong family relationships helped the contagion, especially from the young to the old. As Italy was the first to start, the government response was unavoidably tentative (that of other countries who started later had no excuse).

GLO: Italy is strongly related to China through the Belt & Road initiative. Has this played any role?

Alessandro Cigno: The Belt & Road initiative may have played a role.

GLO: Were the radical lockdown measures effective?

Alessandro Cigno: Radical lockdown is estimated to have saved 30 000 lives.

GLO: Did Italy discuss alternatives?

Alessandro Cigno: Alternatives to lockdown were and are discussed, but the scientific and medical consensus is that they are inferior.

GLO: How do Italians react to the missing European solidarity in this crisis?

Alessandro Cigno: Italians are offended by the missing European solidarity and fear that it will be the end of European unification.

With Alessandro Cigno spoke Klaus F. Zimmermann, GLO President.

Related GLO research:
Yun Qiu, Xi Chen & Wei Shi (2020):
Impacts of Social and Economic Factors on the Transmission of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) in China
GLO Discussion Paper, No. 494; Discussion Paper of the Month March.
More Information.

Activities and reports of the GLO Research Cluster on the Coronavirus.