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Poverty rises to 15-year high in Italy amid coronavirus crisis

Poverty rates in Italy, whose economy has been battered by the coronavirus pandemic, rose last year to the highest level since records began in 2005, official data showed on Thursday.

Poverty rises to 15-year high in Italy amid coronavirus crisis
A man wearing a face mask walks past a closed shop in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The ranks of people in absolute poverty swelled by more than one million in 2020, to 5.6 million, out of a total population of around 60 million.

The number of households viewed as poor – where they cannot afford basic living necessities, including food – rose from 1.7 to 2 million, Italian statistics office Istat said.

In percentage terms, 9.4 per cent of individuals and 7.7 per cent of households were classed as poor – the highest level since the data series began.

In 2005, only three to four percent of Italian households and individuals were in absolute poverty, Istat said. The rate jumped after 2011, when Italy suffered a major debt crisis, and has remained relatively high since then.

Istat also said that average monthly household spending fell in 2020 to 2,328 euros ($2,800), down by 9.1 per cent compared with 2019, to the lowest value since 2000.

The statistics body reported that Italy’s economy shrunk by 8.9% in 2020. It is one of the worst in Europe, compared with a fall of 5.0 percent in Germany and 8.3 percent in France. Spain’s economy fared even worse, with a drop of 11 percent.

Last year, Italy was the first country in Europe to be overwhelmed by the coronavirus pandemic. 

To date, Covid-19 has killed almost 100,000 people in Italy and has caused the worst recession the country has seen since World War II.

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Over the course of 2020, gross domestic product (GDP) was down by nearly nine per cent and nearly 450,000 people – mostly women, younger workers and the self-employed – lost their jobs.

This has further exacerbated the gender gap in Italy’s labour market – in December 2020, 99,000 women lost their employment, versus only 2,000 men, Istat figures showed.

It’s hoped the outlook for Italy’s economy will improve following the appointment of Prime Minister, Mario Draghi.

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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