Italy’s poorer south suffers under lockdown, and fears a second blow from the virus. The number facing acute hunger could double this year, the World Food Program says. A port city in Ecuador has become an epicenter of the outbreak in Latin America.
In Italy, the pandemic hit the wealthy north first and hardest, but the poorer south is also suffering deeply, amid fears that things there could get much worse.
The northern region that includes Milan, the country’s commercial capital, has suffered one of the world’s worst outbreaks. It has caused more than 20,000 known deaths, sickened and killed many health care workers, overwhelmed hospitals, forced doctors to ration lifesaving treatment and left many elderly people to die with no care at all.
The national lockdown the government ordered six weeks ago has kept that level of catastrophe from hitting the south, where there have been about 1,500 deaths, and where health care systems are not as sophisticated or as well staffed, and were already in dire financial straits.
“The health system in the south cannot hold a candle to the northern one,” said Giovanni Rezza, director of the infectious illness department at the National Health Institute. He said the government’s lockdown decision was in part motivated by the belief that “the south cannot bear the shock of an epidemic.”
Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said on Tuesday that the country was likely to begin easing lockdown measures from May 4, and promised to move cautiously. But southern officials fear that easing travel restrictions will expose their region to the full wrath of Covid-19.
The south was already suffering from poverty and corruption before the epidemic struck, leaving many people with little to fall back on. Unemployment was at 18 percent, and many workers were ineligible for benefits if they lost their jobs because they worked off the books.
In such conditions, the lockdown has left people unable to buy food or pay rent.
Meorina Mazza, who lives in the southern region of Calabria, said she now relies on donations of flour to feed her two daughters, but cannot pay her electricity bills.
“We are really headed toward total desperation,” she said.