Why the Coronavirus Was So Deadly for Italy

Lack of coordination and trust caused trouble for the country’s response to the pandemic

Keren Landman, MD
Elemental
Published in
4 min readJun 3, 2020

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Photo illustration. Sources: alexey_ds, Lepusinensis/Getty Images

As any aficionado of the “Italian grandmothers making pasta” video genre might infer, Italy’s population has the world’s second-highest proportion of older adults. Twenty-three percent of the country’s residents are older than 65, and 20% of older Italians live with at least one child.

Italy’s age-diverse culture of multigenerational, high-density living has been blamed, in part, for the way the coronavirus spread through parts of the country like wildfire, resulting in what is to date one of the highest per capita death rates due to the virus worldwide. But other countries with large numbers of older residents and multigenerational households didn’t suffer the way Italy did — and in fact, within Italy itself, disease and death rates due to Covid-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, varied dramatically between regions.

Decentralization drastically weakens the response

Italy had the misfortune of being the first Western democracy to confront the pandemic, and images from within its borders tell a story of individuals forced to make terrible choices without precedent: who gets medical care, who gets

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Keren Landman, MD
Elemental

Infectious disease doctor | Epidemiologist | Journalist | Health disparities, HIV/STDs, LGBTQ care, et al. | kerenlandman.com.