As confirmed coronavirus cases in the US have hit 5 million on Sunday, by far the highest of any country, the failure of the world’s most powerful nation to contain the virus has been met with astonishment and alarm in Europe, the Associated Press reports.
Perhaps nowhere outside the US is America’s bungled virus response viewed with more consternation than in Italy, which was ground zero of Europe’s epidemic.
The Italian government was unprepared when the outbreak exploded in February, and the country still has one of the world’s highest official death tolls at 35,000.
But after a strict nationwide, 10-week lockdown, vigilant tracing of new clusters and general acceptance of mask mandates and social distancing, Italy has become a model of virus containment.
“Don’t they care about their health?,” Patrizia Antonini, a mask-clad woman asked about people in the United States as she walked with friends along the banks of Lake Bracciano, north of Rome.
“They need to take our precautions. […] They need a real lockdown.”
Much of the incredulity in Europe stems from the fact that America had the benefit of time, European experience and medical know-how to treat the virus that the continent itself didnt have when the first Covid-19 patients started filling intensive care units.
Yet, more than four months into a sustained outbreak, the US reached the 5 million mark, according to the running count kept by Johns Hopkins University.
Health officials believe the actual number is perhaps 10 times higher, or closer to 50 million, given testing limitations and the fact that as many as 40% of all those who are infected have no symptoms.
“We Italians always saw America as a model,” said Massimo Franco, a columnist with daily Corriere della Sera.
“But with this virus we’ve discovered a country that is very fragile, with bad infrastructure and a public health system that is nonexistent.”
Italian health minister Roberto Speranza hasn’t shied away from criticizing the US, officially condemning as wrong the decision of the Trump administration to withhold funding from the World Health Organization and expressing amazement at president Donald Trump’s virus response.
After Trump finally donned a mask last month, Speranza told La7 television: “I’m not surprised by Trump’s behavior now; Im profoundly surprised by his behavior before.”