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Italy Sees Worst Of Europe's Coronavirus Outbreak

RACHEL MARTIN, HOST:

In Europe, Italy is seeing the worst of the coronavirus outbreak. More than 3,000 cases have been diagnosed, and more than a hundred people have died. In order to contain the virus, Italy has now closed all of its schools and universities, and sports fans have been barred from attending games.

We're going to go to Flavia Riccardo now. She's a researcher in the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Italian National Institute of Health. Thank you so much for being with us this morning.

FLAVIA RICCARDO: Hello. Thank you.

MARTIN: You are in Rome. Can you just describe what it's like there and what the mood is like?

RICCARDO: What I've seen today coming to work, taking the metro - seems things are quiet, people are well-informed, and I haven't seen any problems. And it looked pretty normal this morning, even though, of course, children didn't go to school. But definitely, there is attention. There's been a lot of work being done in terms of communicating to the public of washing hands and social distancing. So hopefully, that will lead to a behavioral change, which is what we hope for.

MARTIN: Yeah. Can you explain just how the situation got so bad in Italy?

RICCARDO: Unfortunately, this virus came exactly at the same time when we had our influenza seasonal peak. And we knew that this could mask some of the early importations of COVID-19 because the symptoms are very similar.

So what happened is that we tested a patient that was critically ill that didn't have a direct link to travel or to known cases, and we found this person positive. And this, of course, led to an extensive tracing to try to understand what was going on. And this is why we tested a lot of people. And we found out early on that we had local sustained transmission. And then from there on, everything was activated very fast.

MARTIN: Do the public understand why schools and universities have been closed? I mean, this is going to be a burden for a lot of people if they don't have...

RICCARDO: Yes.

MARTIN: ...Child care, anywhere to send their kids. They're not going to be able to go to work.

RICCARDO: Yeah. What I've seen as an individual is that people seem to be - have accepted this as one of the norms. There's been a big call from our prime minister to a national joint effort of people of working together to get over this emergency as fast as we can. So I think in that sense, in general, from my personal perspective, I can say that there hasn't been a reaction - a negative reaction to this - rather, a positive one.

MARTIN: But may I ask, Flavia, I mean, do you have confidence in the measures that have been taken to contain the virus, or are you concerned that it could get worse?

RICCARDO: I think what we're trying to do now is to make the best of the tools we have to make sure that even if we can't stop transmission in absolute terms, we can manage that transmission better. So I think in terms of my personal perception, there's been - definitely, the government has taken this very seriously very early on. And in terms of attention, in terms of engagement also with the scientific component, I think there's a lot of synergy there. And that gives me a lot of confidence in general, even though we're looking at a very new threat.

MARTIN: Flavia Riccardo with the Department of Infectious Diseases at the Italian National Institute of Health, thank you so much for talking with us.

RICCARDO: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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