One likely reason for the severity of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy is the prevalence of Chinese tourism there, said Dr. Anthony Fauci, a top medical adviser on President Donald Trump’s coronavirus task force.
The disease was able to spread widely before Italian officials “even knew what was going on,” Fauci explained.
Dr. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), delivered his take on the reasons behind Italy’s terrible current situation during an interview on Wednesday with CNN host Chris Cuomo. The conversation began with a discussion of what lessons could be learned from looking at how other countries have handled the coronavirus pandemic and how those lessons could be applied here in America.
Focusing on the “curve” of new infections, Fauci noted that while some nations have peaked and begun to flatten the curve or see a decline, “Italy is not there yet.”
Italy “in a very difficult position”
“Italy got hit really badly, almost certainly, and I think this gets to your question about us here in the United States, is Italy got hit very badly because they had a large number of importations from China by Chinese tourists,” Fauci said.
Indeed, Italy has become a top destination for tourists from China in recent years. Just in December 2019, the South China Morning Post reported that “Italy is now the most popular European destination for Chinese tourists.”
“And before they even knew what was going on, there was enough baseline people spreading that essentially got out of hand, and it became difficult for them — as good as they are, and they’re very good — to be able to contain it in a way that is contact-tracing all that kind of thing,” Fauci continued. “It was more mitigation, how do we deal with what we have. They’re in a very difficult position.”
Fauci said that the U.S. is in an entirely different situation due to the size of the country and how the virus has, at different times, broken out in different places.
Specifically, he pointed to the initial outbreak in Washington state as compared to the current epicenter in New York City. “That was a different kind of thing than what you see in New York City, which very likely got seeded because New York City is a hub of influx of travelers — not only originally from China, but also from Europe — which has become the new China in the sense of the number of cases,” he explained.
He added later that a similar situation — an influx of travelers — was likely the reason for an equally concerning outbreak in New Orleans, Lousiana.
Italy truly has been hit especially hard by the coronavirus pandemic, with Johns Hopkins University documenting approximately 86,500 confirmed cases and more than 9,000 deaths attributed to the disease as of Friday afternoon.