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Italian Politicians’ Problematic WhatsApp Messages During Pandemic

Italian politicians and health officials joked about Italy’s role in the spread of the coronavirus and attempted to protect the country's image during the pandemic in WhatsApp messages, leading to an investigation and suspicions of "aggravated culpable epidemic" and manslaughter.

It is not just in the UK that politicians are facing issues with WhatsApp messages and the COVID-19 pandemic, as revealed by the Guardian newspaper today.

WhatsApp messages between Italian politicians and senior health officials at the start of the coronavirus pandemic have been revealed, showing how leaders attempted to protect the country’s image as it became the first hit in Europe, while appearing to joke about Italy’s role in the spread of the virus. The messages are part of an inquiry that led prosecutors to place former prime minister Giuseppe Conte, former health minister Roberto Speranza and 17 other officials under investigation on suspicion of “aggravated culpable epidemic” and manslaughter in connection with the government’s response at the beginning of the pandemic.

In one message, Speranza tells a colleague that “we must exploit” a report claiming Europe’s first coronavirus case was detected in Germany in order to protect Italy’s image. The investigation centres on the alleged failure by authorities to take adequate measures to prevent the spread of the virus by quarantining the towns of Alzano Lombardo and Nembro when outbreaks occurred there two days after the first confirmed case. Bergamo registered 6,000 excess deaths during the first wave of the virus, and prosecutors say 4,000 could have been prevented had the province been immediately quarantined.

The WhatsApp messages exchanged between Italian politicians and senior health officials during the pandemic demonstrate the lengths to which the capitalist state will go to protect its image and power. By attempting to downplay Italy’s role in the spread of the virus, they were prioritising the interests of the capitalist class over the health and safety of the working class.

Italy’s aging population[1] made it particularly vulnerable to the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic, with the elderly accounting for a disproportionate number of deaths. Despite this, the government’s response was slow, and their failure to take adequate measures to prevent the spread of the virus further endangered the elderly population. Moreover, the Italian health sector was already underfunded and understaffed[2], exacerbating the impact of the pandemic. The pandemic exposed the flaws of the capitalist health system in Italy, as hospitals were overwhelmed, and healthcare workers were under immense pressure. Stuart Ramsey’s reporting for Sky News at the time were particularly hard hitting, showing the impact COVID-19 was having on health workers and their seriously ill patients. The pandemic also highlighted the need for investment in public healthcare, rather than relying on private healthcare providers that prioritise profit over care. The Italian government’s response to the pandemic and its handling of the healthcare sector reflects how capitalist interests have infiltrated all aspects of society, including the health and wellbeing of its citizens.

Statistic: Coronavirus (COVID-19) deaths in Italy as of March 1, 2023, by age group | Statista
Find more statistics at Statista

[1] COVID-19 ravaged Italy, hitting the country hard and fast. Among the victims, the virus took a particularly deadly toll on the elderly population. An examination of those who lost their lives to the virus revealed that nearly 95% of the roughly 186, 000 deaths analysed were individuals aged 50 years and older. This heart-breaking statistic adds to the tragedy of Italy's already devastating death toll, one of the highest in the world.

[2] Additionally, prior to the pandemic, Italy's health sector was already facing challenges. In 2019, Italy spent 8.7 % of GDP on health care, compared to the EU average of 9.9 %. In the same year, per capita spending reached EUR 2,525 (adjusted for differences in purchasing power), which is over 25 % below the EU average (EUR 3,523) Historically, health expenditure in Italy has always been lower than the EU average, but slow increases have occurred over the last five years, mainly driven by a growth in private spending. Public spending as a proportion of total health expenditure was 74 % in 2019 – lower than the EU average of 80 %

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