Italy’s New Coronavirus Cases Drop Slightly, Prompting Hope

ROME, ITALY - MARCH 17: A member of the Italian Red Cross plays with a dog between two field kitchens in the headquarters of the Red Cross on March 17, 2020 in Rome, Italy. Homeless people are trapped in still cities, many assistance centers are closed due to possible contagion, …
Marco Di Lauro/Getty

Italian health officials announced Tuesday evening that a modest drop in new cases of the coronavirus is cause for cautious hope that the countrywide lockdown may be having an effect.

The director of Italy’s Superior Health Council, Dr. Franco Locatelli, said that the drop in the number of new infections and victims would need to be replicated in the next couple days, but as it stands we look at it “with confident attention.”

“The hope is to continue to see this ‘decrease in the increase,’ and then we will also be more confident in saying we have achieved an important result for the country,” Dr. Locatelli said.

In the 24-hour period preceding Tuesday evening’s announcement, the total number of current cases of coronavirus climbed to 26,062 in the country, an increase of 2,989, while total cases grew from 27,980 to 31,506, representing a 12.6 percent rise, the lowest rate of increase since the outbreak was identified on February 21.

Meanwhile, the number of deaths in Italy from COVID-19 climbed 345 to a total of 2,503, while the total of those who have recovered from the virus grew to 2,941.

The Italian government has enacted a series of measures to halt the spread of the coronavirus, shutting down almost all establishments other than grocery stores, gas stations, pharmacies, tobacconists, and funeral homes, while confining people to their homes.

In order to leave their residences, Italians must download a special government form called an “autocertificazione” declaring themselves not subject to quarantine and explaining the purpose of their movement, which must fall into four categories: that they are going to socially necessary work, doing solitary physical exercise, buying essential goods such as food and medicines, or returning home from travel.

Italian police are out in force patrolling the streets, conducting frequent stops on those who venture from their homes, assessing their motives for being out, and issuing numerous fines.

On Tuesday, the Interior Ministry published the number of stops police have conducted recently, in an apparent effort to frighten people into compliance with the norms.

Police stopped 172,720 people on the streets on Monday of this week, the ministry said, sanctioning 7,890 of them for being outside their homes without adequate reason.

A further 229 were found guilty of making false declarations regarding their identity or their motives for being outside, a crime punishable by up to six years in jail.

In the four-day period from March 11 to March 16 police stopped 838,200 people, the ministry added, with 35,506 of those receiving fines, which also carry with them a criminal record.

On Tuesday, National Public Radio (NPR) published an article titled “Self-Isolation Orders Pit Civil Liberties Against Public Good in Coronavirus Pandemic,” underscoring the need for discussion on the trade-offs between a greater sense of security and respect for basic freedoms.

One of America’s top quarantine experts, Georgetown University Law School’s Lawrence Gostin, said that recent San Francisco area regulations (which are far lighter than Italy’s) “are likely to be challenged in court and judges will have to balance individual civil liberties and constitutional rights against the need to protect public health.”

Once you start “getting into what might colloquially be called an en masse quarantine or a lockdown where government will actually aggressively enforce it, then you’re getting into territory that implicates the most fundamental constitutional rights and the right to freedom of movement, the right to freedom of travel,” Gostin said.

Although this is exactly what has occurred in Italy, there has been no public debate over the proportionality of the measures being taken or the negative effects on basic freedoms, suggesting either that Italians overwhelmingly value security over freedom, or that government feels entitled to assume absolute control over the lives of citizens when it deems it necessary.

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