The Spark

“The emancipation of the working class will only be achieved by the working class itself.” — Karl Marx

Italy:
The Health Care System Is Sick

Mar 16, 2020

Translated from Lutte Ouvrière (Workers’ Struggle), the newspaper of the revolutionary workers’ group active in France.

Quarantine measures were imposed throughout Italy on March 10. By then, the coronavirus had already killed 631 people and infected more than 10,000.

The message announced by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte is to “stay home.” In other words, limit travel as much as possible, in the attempt to stop the spread of the epidemic. Any travel must be excused by professional or health necessity.

Much of Italy’s social and economic activity is suspended until April 3. All schools and sports and cultural centers are closed. The hours of bars, restaurants, supermarkets, and shops are limited. All religious services are canceled. Even the sacred game of soccer is down. All soccer games are off, including the national championships, Series A.

With hints of national unity in wartime, the government called for every individual to take responsibility for applying the quarantine law. There are fines and sanctions for those who violate quarantine without just cause. But in fact everyone will keep commuting to work no matter the difficulty—for example, to babysit the schoolchildren whose schools are closed.

Conte claims that all Italians are equal facing the threat of the coronavirus, so all must unite to fight it. But the emergency highlights social inequality. The announcement that family visits to prisons are banned provoked mutinies in several prisons. Prisoners exploded against overcrowded conditions which continue to risk spreading contamination. Charities explain that basic hygiene to prevent contagion is difficult or impossible for the poorest people, and especially for homeless people.

Politicians of all stripes praise the excellence of the healthcare system but it threatens to crack. There have been years of austerity budgets and staffing cuts in hospitals considered to be “money pits.” In northern regions like Lombardy, hospitals had been well endowed but then faced the most privatization, which strangled them. The south is less wealthy and its hospitals were neglected for decades. Hospital staff there would be even harder pressed to cope with the virus. The government measures aimed at preventing the epidemic from spreading south may well have come too late.

The law authorizes hiring 20,000 new temporary caregivers with overtime and time-and-a-half. A nurse in Emilia Romagna said health workers are happy to see more hands arriving, but they also suffer from a shortage of beds and equipment that they have denounced for years. Official proclamations never fail to pay tribute to the spirit of sacrifice and dedication of medical personnel and to call on them to work tirelessly. But the lack of necessary equipment is critical. With respect to breathing aids, doctors have spoken out about having to choose between sick and sick-and-elderly patients. The same nurse explained that health workers have to decide who can benefit from a respiratory assistance device and who can not. The officials who told them for years to resign themselves to do without, do not have to make these cruel choices.

The coronavirus epidemic highlights the shortcomings of a health system sacrificed for years for financial reasons.