The small town in Italy's 'danger zone' that beat the virus

Last Updated: 25 Mar 2020
Elise Matheson

In a sea of misery and impending doom, the story of Vo is an inspiring display of how leadership, decisive action and community discipline put an end to the spread of coronavirus. 

This story is even more astonishing as it comes from a country that has seen more deaths due to COVID-19 than China itself, from a small town in the heart of Italy’s danger zone.

By now, we are all familiar with the terrifying news pouring out of Italy, of overcrowded hospitals and decisions being made between older and younger patients over who gets a bed in ICU.

But, with the entire country’s healthcare system on the brink of collapse, the town of Vo in Italy’s north offers a glimmer of hope, providing an example of what quick, decisive action can achieve.

After seeing Italy’s first coronavirus death back in February, Vo took measures to ensure it was the town’s last, testing all 3,000 residents regardless of whether they were showing symptoms.

89 came back positive. Instead of sending them to hospitals where the chance of infecting vulnerable patients was high, they were asked to self-quarantine at home.

Two weeks later, a second round of testing found the infection rate had plummeted from 3% to 0.41%, with no further deaths. The success of the testing program, led by University of Padua professor Andrea Crisanti and Antonio Cassone, former director of infectious diseases at the Italian Institute of Health, has attracted a lot of attention around the efficacy of rigorous testing and social isolation.

While it may have worked for a town with only 3,300 residents, it doesn’t present as a viable solution for a city with nearly 2 million such as Perth, especially as the global supply of testing kits is dwindling.

In fact, you can only get tested in Perth if you have a fever and a cough or sore throat AND you have:

  • Returned from overseas travel in the last 14 days
  • Come into contact with someone who has COVID-19
  • Reason to believe you have been in contact with a confirmed COVID-19 case
This may be expanded as the crisis escalates, and newly introduced criteria extend testing to:
  • Those working in aged-care facilities who show symptoms
  • People in high-risk communities such as remote and rural areas, military barracks and detention centres with 2 or more cases of respiratory illness
  • Cruise ship passengers who have disembarked within 14 days and are showing symptoms
But the fact remains that testing kits are not in infinite supply.

Cynicism aside, if there is anything that we can learn from Vo, it’s that action needs to be taken swiftly by leadership, and that all members of a community need to take social isolation policies seriously for them to work.

To see how social distancing helps ‘flatten the curve’, check out Washington Post’s ‘fake disease simulator’ here.

Read the original opinion piece by the leaders of this experiment here.

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