Italy Becomes European Epicenter for Coronavirus

Italian authorities reported a woman in Sicily tested positive for COVID-19, the first infection south of Rome. The woman is a tourist from Bergamo in Lombardy, an Italian state. Her traveling companions have been quarantined.

The virus first took hold in Italy in Lombardy and Veneto. The country now has more than 260 cases of COVID-19, with 34 new cases reported overnight in Lombardy. The death toll remains at 7.

As is usual, the trouble in Italy quickly turned into a political brawl when Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte suggested malpractice at a hospital in Lombardy may have fueled the outbreak.  The opposition League party, which runs Lombardy and opposes Conte, took issue with that characterization.

The opposition League’s lower-house speaker Riccardo Molinari characterized Conte’s statement as “almost fascist.”

Lombardy’s Governor Attilio Fontana accused Conte of a “desperation strategy …probably trying to attack others to distract attention (from himself).”

While the party leaders went after each other, the country moved closer to recession as organizers of festivals and other public gatherings quickly canceled events. Italy is the fourth-largest economy in Europe and never regained its footing after the financial crisis.  This setback could push the country back into recession.

The biggest problem is tourism, or the lack of it.  The industry accounts for about 13% of GDP.  If tourists choose to avoid Italy over virus fears, it would be a serious blow to the country’s economy.

Milan cathedral was closed to visitors, the Venice carnival, one of the world’s premier tourist attractions, was shut early for the first time in decades and airlines began restricting flights to Italy.

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