Lombardy, how salty the price of not telling the whole truth

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On Wednesday 3 June, traffic returns to Italy. Anyone in any region you live in can take a car, a bus, a train, an airplane, a ship and go wherever they like. Individually I am happy about it, I was fed up with being kidnapped in my house in Turin. But, as a scholar and observer of Italian politics, I cannot hide the sea of ​​doubts that assail me. I am struck, first of all, by the ideology with which the “unblocking” of inter-regional circulation came about. For days now, like a refrain, we have heard ourselves repeat: if and when we reopen, we will have to do it “together”. Either all regions leave immediately (3 June), or postpone for a week or two, giving more time to the latecomers. The important thing is not to create differences, discriminations, privileges.

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Unbelievable. The ideology had interfered at the beginning of the epidemic, when wanting to quarantine children arriving from China, or avoiding Chinese-run restaurants, had seemed intolerable signs of racism and discrimination to democratic respectability.

Now we are witnessing, in a more subtle way, the same film: saying that one or more regions are not ready to send their inhabitants around seems to many an unacceptable discriminatory measure, harbinger of conflicts and tensions.

But hadn’t we said that, if the situation had been very different from territory to territory, differentiated openings would have taken place? Was it not repeated to us that, once the lockdown was over, we should carefully monitor the situation and be ready to introduce restrictions where the situation required it?It can be objected, of course, that the “all together” ideology is supported by the data, which would show that the epidemic is under control. But it is precisely here that things become problematic. The reality is that no one has solid data on what is happening now, and not even what happened in the 10 days following the reopening of May 18 (epidemiological data always reflect what happened 1, 2, even 3 weeks before).

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The Istat investigation into the spread of the infection has just begun, with serious and in my opinion unjustified delay.

The latest report from the Istituto Superiore di Sanità (ISS), on which the government says to base its decisions, if read carefully (and compared with the previous report) reveals that in the week from 18 to 24 May the value of rt, the parameter that indicates the transmission rate of the infection, was increasing in 15 regions / provinces out of 20 (no data is provided for Campania). And as for the trend of the infections, the report confirms the enormous differences not only between North and South, but also within the North, with Lombardy which has a weekly incidence of new cases 10 times higher than that of Veneto, and this despite the fact that Veneto does a lot of tampons and Lombardy few.

By this I do not mean that the choice to restart interregional circulation is completely unjustified. When there are two values ​​at stake, it is normal for politics to decide. And nobody can say what is the reasonable “exchange rate” between one point of GDP less and 1000 more deaths.

What does not go down as a sociologist is that it is not recognized that this is not a choice like any other. That between openness and health is not like the choice between less taxes and more public spending. Rather, it belongs to the category of “tragic choices”, as in a fundamental book (Tragic Choices, 1978) was defined by Guido Calabresi, one of the fathers of the economic analysis of law. The choice is tragic because, in a case like the Covid epidemic, health and economics cannot be balanced. It is certain that rigorous health protection has catastrophic effects on the economy, and it is equally certain that defending the needs of the economy costs thousands of lives.

In this situation, the only thing not to do, whatever the decision you make, is to hide the cost. Because if you hide it, or don’t recognize it solemnly, what you will pay is an overcharge, the overcharge of not telling the whole truth.

My feeling is that this is exactly the situation we are in. The government has made its decisions, right or wrong. But public opinion and the media those decisions tend to interpret them as signs of an improvement in the situation, of a decrease in risk (“if they reopen, it means that there is less risk than before”).

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Behaviors no longer become prudent, but less. The desire for holidays and freedom does the rest. Millions of families are planning their holidays. Trains, planes, ships, hydrofoils are about to undergo an assault. Nobody says that we are launching into yet another gamble. Nobody says that travel poses significant risks. No pounding campaign, like those of the past on “distancing – masks – wash your hands”, now explains what we must do to reduce the risks when we get on a collective means of transport. No one informs us with constancy and abundance of details on what measures are being taken to neutralize the risks of air conditioning on trains, planes and hydrofoils.

And you also understand the reason, which is the same for which the tampons were long opposed: save tourism. And here’s the overcharge. The renunciation of being aware of the major dangers we are about to face makes the cost of safeguarding the economy even higher than it would be if the authorities spoke clearly, and dared to tell us the truth: the epidemic is not under control, the dangers they are still very large, if we reopen it is not because we are able to make you work and have fun “in safety”, but because we have decided that the priority is to save the economy and restore some normalcy.

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