Coronavirus: Chronicles from Northern Italy.

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March 17, 2020

A fool is someone who does not learn from a crisis. A wise person learns from the poor experiences of others. This article contains information on Italy’s current Coronavirus Crisis and should serve as a warning to those who still have a chance to decide if they want to be foolish or wise.

I live and work in Milan – Italy, which is at the heart of the current epidemic. Our country has recently become the second most affected by Covid-19, right after China, and I have received many messages from friends and other business continuity / crisis management professionals from around the world. They are all asking me what the situation in Italy is really like and how we are reacting to it. However, while I can reassure everyone that myself, my family, and my colleagues are all safe and sound, I always admit to them that my country is facing an extremely serious crisis. Yes, we are convinced that we will overcome this crisis, but I am worried that other countries have underestimated and keep underestimating the Coronavirus threat: to them, I say learn from what has happened to Italy. 

The situation as of today, March 2020 is the following:

  • Italy is in lock-down until April 3rd, at least. According to medical experts, this is the only possible way to prevent the Coronavirus from spreading at speeds that would intensify the already-great pressure on our national health system past the breaking point. The number of intensive care units has been increased in Lombardy to augment our region’s capacity, and non-Covid-19 patients are being moved to other locations. Moreover, our experience so far has refuted the idea that Coronavirus is a serious threat only for the elderly or for patients with pre-existing conditions.
  • People are obliged to stay home. They can still go to work, but only if remote working is not an option or their job is especially vital. They can also go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy, but everyone must respect the safe-distance requirements, currently set to at least one meter. This entails long queues outside stores, since only a limited number of people is allowed inside at one time. Home deliveries are encouraged and – in most cases – are also free for 65+ year old users.
  • Schools, theatres, cinemas, pubs, bars, restaurants, stadiums, fairs, conferences, museums, public parks, most shops and places of worship are closed. As an example, even the Pope’s regular Angelus sermon is broadcasted remotely.
  • Police and armed forces ensure that people do not assemble anywhere. They have been empowered to stop anyone and ask them to provide official proof of their reasons for not being at home (e.g.: employer’s certificate, supermarket receipt, etc.). If you are unable to provide such proof, you may and likely will incur criminal prosecution.
  • Critical infrastructure is still functioning. Supermarkets are open and fully refurbished. Public transport can be used, but only in compliance with the limitations mentioned above. Energy and telecommunications are up and running. Banks have been required to guarantee their priority services.
  • As you can imagine, Italy’s morale is suffering, but our national pride seems to be prevailing. People are compelled to respond to this crisis with maturity, because each of us has a critical role to play. The population’s overall reaction has been positive thus far, but there have been a few cases of people being reported for violating government-sanctioned restrictions.

In our view, it is high time that all countries adopt similar measures, and I am glad to see that the attitude of many political leaders has changed over the weekend. I am uncertain whether these changes will be enough, however; I am afraid many other countries will need to implement much stricter approaches before long.

To substantiate this fear, I offer the table below, which shows the disease’s progress in Italy (population: 60 million) and the United States (population: 330 million) as of March 11th, 2020 in number of confirmed cases:

Source: Luca Foresti’s Facebook page. Luca Foresti is the CEO of the Centro Medico Santagostino and a physicist. He is contributing to the divulgation of data analyses on the Coronavirus and has a daily podcast with “Il Sole 24 Ore”, which is one of the main business newspaper in Italy.

According to this data, the disease’s progression in Italy seems to be almost exactly 11 days ahead of the United States. Therefore, my advice to countries that have not implemented strong restrictions yet is to prepare for lock-down, which is likely inevitable at this point.

The overall feeling here in Italy is that this total lock-down is far better than prolonged agony. The vast majority of us is fully aware of the severe economic consequences to our economy, but:

  1. Safety always comes first;
  2. We hope that these measures will help our country to re-start fully in only a few weeks, whereas a milder approach would probably increase medium- and long-term impacts significantly.

I also want to be clear on the fact that, from a business continuity perspective, China’s example shows us that the sooner restrictive measures are applied, the better.

That said, as far as Italy is concerned, unfortunately it is still too soon to come up with lessons-learned and post-mortem analyses. There will be time enough in the future, but for now, these activities are premature. As a business continuity and crisis management professional with over 40 years of experience, I can say that this is the most severe crisis I have ever seen, and that the Coronavirus will be a great opportunity for us to improve our resilience in the future.

What we can do now is what we are doing: information sharing and debating with our professional network in a constructive manner to come up with solutions that will help our communities and our businesses confront this serious threat.

Accordingly, PANTA RAY has decided to launch a webinar with a few other resilience professionals from different countries / regions to discuss the Coronavirus, starting from our experience here in Italy.

Stay tuned for more information and… “coraggio Italia”!


Author: Gianna Detoni, President & Founder at PANTA RAY

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PANTA RAY is a training and management consulting firm, specialized in organizational resilience. 

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