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Italy is unable to hold down the epidemic. “The world is about to face two major challenges”, warns Professor Chuei-Ling Shin of NSYSU Department of Political Economy

(Report by student journalist) The novel coronavirus pneumonia put the whole world on alert. The epidemic spread to Europe and Italy has the highest number of confirmed cases among European countries. Professor Chuei-Ling Shin of NSYSU Department of Political Economy said that there are a few theories about what led to an increased transmission of the virus in Italy. What is more, the Italian government underestimated the seriousness of the epidemic in its early stage and missed the “golden-time” window.

Why is Italy the ground zero of the epidemic outbreak in Europe? Professor Chuei-Ling Shin said that there is no precise nor official explanation to this question, however, there are many theories. One of them points at China as the source of infection: there are many Chinese immigrants from the provinces of Zhejiang and Wenzhou living in Italy, working as wholesalers and running restaurants. Although there was no official nor medical confirmation about the causal linkage, it is believed that their frequent interaction may have led to the spread of the virus. There are a lot of sites of historical value in Northern Italy and also the capital of fashion - Milan. This region attracts significant numbers of tourists from different countries. There is also a more reserved theory, stating that it is currently impossible to prove the source of infection. In January, there was still no case of COVID-19 infection detected in Italy; cases started being reported only in the second half of February. A traceable source claims that there have already been COVID-19 patients in January, however, no particular attention was paid to this fact in Italy and these patients were categorized as having pure influenza. In this way, Italy missed its “golden-time” window.

Professor Chuei-Ling Shin said that the rapid outbreak of the epidemic in Europe was escalated by globalization and increased migration. Many European countries joined the Schengen Agreement and abolished border controls within the Area, and this also played its part in the spread of the virus. The fears among the European nations led to canceled flight connections with China, temporary restoration of border controls, and European governments calling for “social distancing”. However, in the era of globalization and close connections between people of the world, viruses spread increasingly fast. In the past days, government agencies of many countries in the world have been reporting confirmed cases of COVID-19, even NBA indefinitely suspended the season. The epidemic has caused anxiety and insecurity in the whole world.

Hui-Fang Ouyang, a Taiwanese exchange student in Milan, Italy, said that the situation in Italy is not as dramatic as presented by the media. The local government announced a travel ban as soon as the epidemic started spreading, limiting the free movement of people. Hui-Fang claims that the healthcare situation is not as serious as said by the media, which report the “collapse of the healthcare system and moral crisis as the physicians select people worth treatment”. Medical staff strive to treat every patient tested positive for the virus. Generally, consumer goods are in sufficient supply and the problem of panic-buying is not grave.

Professor Chuei-Ling Shin specializes in international relations and conducted a comprehensive analysis on why Italy became ground zero of the epidemic outbreak in Europe. She said that the impact of the epidemic on the economy is inevitable. Firstly, overall production, trade, financial investments will decrease on a macroeconomic scale together with consumption levels, making physical industries experience a significant crash. Secondly, various industries will be influenced to different degrees; online industries that don’t require much human contact, such as gaming and online shopping, will have the opportunity to attract new customers during the epidemic wave, while those that will suffer the most are tourism, gastronomy, and aviation.

Professor Shin said that this time might be the peak time of the epidemic in Europe. The impact of the epidemic on the economy is very evident. Last year, the economy of Italy grew by less than 0.5 %. This year, many economic activities will be suspended because of the epidemic, especially in the northern part of Italy, which very much supports the whole economy of Italy, mainly with its well-developed tourism industry. During the epidemic wave, the economy of Italy might decline.

Professor Shin also pointed out that Western countries have perceived the epidemic as a big threat, a flu without a cure, but maintained more composure and open-mindedness than many Asian countries. Different approaches and standpoints towards the situation could be seen in Eastern and Western cultures. We should observe and learn each other and respect our differences.

(Edited by Public Affairs Division)
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