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Can Italy Maintain Its Pandemic-Era Transformation?

COVID-19 prompted a dramatic change in behavior that made Italy more stable and predictable. But with a new president and a general election approaching, there is concern that recent gains could be abandoned just as the country must decide how to use its windfall of EU recovery funds.

FLORENCE – Two years ago this month, Italy reported its initial cases of COVID-19. The country was the first in Europe to be hit by the coronavirus, and it offered examples of both the best and the worst of the epidemic. In March 2020, neighbors sang on their balconies to comfort one another as military transport convoys carried the dead out of Bergamo.

Today, Italy is battling another wave of coronavirus infections driven by the Omicron variant. But the situation on the ground now looks very different from those early days. Evidence suggests that COVID-19 in Italy has become endemic – not (yet) in epidemiological terms, but rather in its effect on residents. The virus has transformed behaviors and adjusted perceptions. A visitor returning for the first time after these two pandemic years would find a country that has changed – overwhelmingly for the better.

In terms of the COVID-19 response, Italy is on the high end of compliance with public-health measures, relative to its European peers. Around 75% of the population has received two doses of a coronavirus vaccine, and over 45% have gotten a booster shot. The government has effectively imposed a vaccine mandate on people over 50, one of only a few European countries to do so. And testing rates are consistently high. A “traffic light” system of measures ensures that the country’s regions are able to implement the government’s decisions quickly as caseloads rise.

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