Giuseppe Conte e Roberto Speranza (La Presse)

Can Italy’s Red Zone Lockdowns Curb the Coronavirus?

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held talks on Sunday with Italy’s technical scientific committee (CTS), which is advising the Italian Government on its response to the coronavirus pandemic. They discussed potential new restrictions, including provincial lockdowns and limiting travel between regions, in an attempt to curb the spread of COVID-19 and its second wave.

Italian politicians debated the new restrictions in parliament on Monday.

What are Italy’s Proposed ‘Red Zone’ Lockdowns?

The “red zone” lockdowns are expected to be at a provincial level, rather than national or regional, and would affect metropolitan areas with the biggest increases in new COVID-19 infections.

Other measures include the possibility of distance learning for all terza media high school students.

Local lockdowns were becoming common in many countries, with the UK following a similar approach until the British Government announced on Saturday that England is entering a second national lockdown as of Thursday.

China’s Hubei Province Has Returned to Normal

Some argue that local lockdowns, similar to the “red zone” lockdowns that the Italian government is proposing, have been effective. Samantha Sault’s article for the World Economic Forum argues that coronavirus cases began to slow when the Chinese Government locked down Hubei province on January 23. They did this by halting transport in and out of the province. They also stopped tens of millions of people from working or going to school. On March 19, China’s National Health Commission reported no new confirmed infections in Hubei.

However, when the Chinese Government ended the Hubei province’s lockdown on April 8, the number of cases in the Chinese region has remained largely flat since then. Twenty-four new cases in Hubei were reported on November 1 and life has returned to normal in the Chinese province.

So far, there is no evidence that the number of COVID-19 cases is going to rapidly increase as we enter the winter season. Therefore, the argument that ending lockdowns will cause a spike in cases is insufficient when you look at the numbers in Hubei right now.

Local Lockdowns Have Failed in Parts of the UK

The same could be said for local lockdowns in Britain. In Bolton in Greater Manchester, households were banned from mixing indoors at the end of July. In August, leisure and entertainment venues were prevented from opening and all food outlets became takeaways in September. Yet the number of cases continued to rise in August, but that does not justify the British Government’s decision to abandon local lockdowns.

The British public were very compliant with the national lockdown measures implemented after March, yet the UK Government failed to prevent more than 40,000 people from dying of the coronavirus, although many of those who died of the pandemic also had serious underlying health conditions.

Meanwhile, Sweden, which has adopted its own set of measures to prevent COVID-19 from spreading without implementing a nationwide lockdown, such as urging people to work from home and encouraging those aged 70 or over to shield themselves, has succeeded in tackling the virus. Some critics argue that this is because Sweden’s population is geographically spread out, but in fact 87 percent of Swedes lives in urban areas.

The Italian Government Should Abandon its ‘Red Zone’ Strategy

These comparisons call into question the Italian government’s strategy about “red zone” lockdowns and whether they will work in Italy. It was not that long ago that Conte implemented strict nationwide measures such as targeted hours for bars and restaurants, and banning private parties. Rome’s strategy has now become increasingly muddled as it has rushed into implementing local lockdowns and performed a complete U-turn.

But given the evidence as to how ineffective local lockdowns have been in countries with similar population sizes such as Britain, or the fact that having no lockdowns has not contributed to a rapid rise in cases in places like Hubei, the evidence is clear: lockdowns, national or local, simply do not work.