CREMONA, ITALY – MARCH 29: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) A male nurse is getting the handover from the head nurse at Cremona Hospital on March 29, 2020 in Cremona, Italy.

Marco Mantovani

The coronavirus outbreak isn’t showing any major signs of easing in Italy, where the death toll surpassed 10,000 over the weekend. 

Italy has been the worst-hit country by the pandemic so far in Europe, with the highest number of deaths and cases among its 60 million citizens. The country has grappled with the outbreak since its first cases emerged in late February, imposing a nation-wide lockdown in early March. 

“We are in the most acute phase,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the newspaper El Pais Sunday. 

There have been 97,689 confirmed cases in total, which includes 13,030 recoveries and 10,779 deaths, according to the latest figures from the Italian government, released Sunday evening. 

“Experts are still cautious, but it is reasonable to think that we are near the peak,” Conte added. 

However, there are growing fears in the southern part of Italy that there could be a surge in cases in the coming days. The outbreak in the country has so far been most concentrated in its industrial northern heartland.

LIVORNO, ITALY – MARCH 29: A pizza chef prepares pizza while wearing a protective mask in his pizzeria which is closed to the public on March 29, 2020 in Livorno, Italy. In Italy the pizzerias are closed, but home delivery is allowed.

Laura Lezza

Vincenzo de Luca, governor of the southern region of Campania, warned last week in a letter to the government that “there is the real possibility that there will be a tragedy in the south.” In general, southern parts of the country are less developed and are likely to face bigger challenges when responding to the virus.

The first cases of Covid-19 emerged in the north of Italy. However, when the first lockdown measures were introduced, they only applied to that area, which meant that many Italians returned to their home regions in the south, potentially spreading the virus across the country.

Daily increases fall in Spain

Meanwhile, in Spain, authorities are being cautiously optimistic about the outbreak, having noticed a reduction in the number of new cases over the weekend.

Fernando Simón, head of Spain’s centre for health emergencies, told reporters on Sunday that “one needs to be careful about the latest figures,” but pointed out that there was a 13% rise in new cases on Saturday, followed by a 9% rise in new cases the following day.

Spain has reported a total of 78,797 confirmed cases, of which 14,709 have recovered from the illness and 6,528 have died, according to the numbers released by the Spanish government on Sunday.

The European challenge

The coronavirus outbreak is shaking the politics of the European Union (EU) by resurfacing old divisions between the 27 member states. 

Italy and Spain, the countries with the highest cases and deaths from the virus, have asked for more European support as the outbreak has brought their economies to a halt.

However, certain EU nations are reluctant to take unprecedented steps in helping these nations because of the risk of jeopardizing public opinion in their home countries.

“If the EU does not live up to its vocation and its role in this historical situation, will citizens have more confidence in it or will they permanently lose it?,” Italy’s Conte asked during the interview with El Pais.

He added that the risk of a higher anti-EU sentiment was “obvious” as a result. “Nationalist instincts, in Italy, but also in Spain and elsewhere, will be much stronger if Europe is not up to the task,” he said. 

Italy, Spain, France and six other EU countries believe that countries sharing the euro as a currency should issue common debt. This instrument would be used to mitigate the economic impact of the virus across all of the impacted nations. 

However, a six-hour call among EU heads of state ended Thursday with no major outcome, with the Netherlands and Germany blocking prospects of joint European issuance.

The idea of so-called “corona bonds” is not supported by the fiscally conservative nations in the north of Europe. Overall, they do not want to be linked with highly indebted nations.

“Within Europe, and really the world at large, it ought to be everyone’s business how each country deals with the crisis because we won’t return to the free movement of people, goods and services across the EU until this health crisis is under control in all member countries,” Erik Nielsen, chief economist at UniCredit, said in a note Sunday.

“Therefore, it seems reasonable to me that the cost of testing, building prevention measures and treatment is shared across Europe,” he added.

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