The Atlantic

The Coronavirus Exposed the West’s Weakest Link

Italy rallied after being hit hard by the pandemic. But it is not out of the woods.
Source: Alex Majoli / Magnum

In Europe, Italy was hit hardest by the pandemic because it was hit first. Hospitals filled up with patients; one local newspaper was so overwhelmed with obituaries that it published only thumbnail-size ones. The entire country was subject to draconian restrictions, the strictest in the West.

Still, Italy rallied: Infections are now under control, a contact-tracing system is in place, and its economy and borders have reopened, although not to visitors from the United States. Tourist-dependent cities like Rome, Florence, and Venice are still suffering, but Milan, the country’s economic engine, is slowly coming back to life.

Italy is not out of the woods, though. It has the third-largest economy in the European Union, after Germany and France, and the second-highest as a percentage of the economy, after Greece. It is led by a weak coalition government. Its middle class is struggling, its , and its . Its gross domestic product is expected this year. The country’s interior minister recently warned of possible this fall if businesses fail and at usurious rates. Its population is declining—the country registers more deaths than births, while the percentage of citizens 16 percent from 2018 to 2019, even before the pandemic hit. It has among the lowest female-employment levels in the EU. Its faith in the EU project , and a right-wing populist opposition party, which is leading in polls, is for illegal dealings .

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