The beginning of any major emergency is confusing and fragmented, but the effect is always the same: normality comes out completely distorted. Suddenly, it is as if an impassable line was drawn between the before and after.
How did they do it?
When the very first cases of coronavirus infection in Italy were reported, the whole country learned about the name of Vo ‘, the small town in the province of Padua, where the first person officially died of COVID-19, on national territory. Together with Codogno, it has been settled that these two small counties were the places where the Italian outbreak started. Thus, for days the attention on the situation in Veneto was very high.
Almost five months after the official outbreak, the situation in Veneto remains serious, but data show that the coronavirus has done much less damage than elsewhere, including regions where the bulk of the infections arrived days or weeks late. One important difference is that Veneto, as it has tested the population, can count on more reliable data to have a representation of the real extent of the infection and deaths, which cannot be said for most of the other regions.
This result was possible thanks to some timely decisions after the discovery of the first cases, but also to others taken out of caution before the coronavirus was discovered in Italy. Behind some of the most important decisions made by Veneto was Andrea Crisanti, microbiologist of the University of Padua. Even before the discovery of the coronavirus in Italy, in fact, at his and other scientists’ suggestion, the region decided that it would invest money and resources to guarantee the possibility of doing tests to detect the coronavirus. That decision, together with some other equally important ones, is the basis of what is now called the “Venetian model“.
Veneto’s preparation for coronavirus had actually started much earlier. On January 20, that is a few days after the WHO had released the first test protocols to detect SARS-CoV-2, registered up to that moment only in China, Crisanti informed the health management of the region that he would make a purchase to ensure sufficient reagents to analyze approximately 500,000 coronavirus swabs.
Veneto started with for 200 – 300 tests per day, and then, given the request, the numbers and the capacity were increased to reach an average of 2 500 tampons a day, the following week. But the efforts of the regional administration to increase the testing capacity at the Padua laboratory did not end there: at the end of March this laboratory managed to buy a machine capable of analyzing up to 9 000 swabs per day, that is, more or less how many the entire Lombard laboratory system processes in the same period of time.
Because Veneto had these testing conditions and only 5 million inhabitants, the processing and the rates were higher. For each case discovered, Veneto made 14.8 buffers, Lombardy 3.6, Emilia-Romagna 5, Piedmont 4.2. Consequently, Veneto was testing a much larger percentage of its population, “discovering” many more sick than Lombardy.
There are those who have questioned the reliability of self-produced reagents, that is, those that are making so many tests possible in Veneto, compared to those sold by companies that also produce machinery that processes swabs. If the self-produced reagent is not of quality, there is a risk of invalidating the diagnosis. Quality is very important: in science not having a result is better than having a wrong result.
Socio-morphological factors also played an important role in the Venetian success in containing the epidemic: that is, a more rural and less urban area than Lombardy, characterized by medium-large cities and high population density. The Val Seriana, with its uninterrupted kilometres of warehouses and its intense commercial traffic, was not by chance one of the areas where coronavirus hit hard and mercifully.
Another fundamental characteristic of the Venetian management of the epidemic was the approach to hospitalizations. Veneto, like all regions, has expanded its intensive care units with several hundred beds, from around 500 initial beds.
For decades, western contemporary health care has been in the direction of centralizing resources from the territory – smaller hospitals, peripheral healthcare companies and, above all, relying on family doctors rather than central, larger, efficient and competent hospitals. In Italy, this trend had its most evident expression in Lombardy, which has become excellence at the national level for specialist care and large hospitals. Veneto, although influenced by this trend, has maintained a greater balance between big hospitals and “groundwork”.
“Veneto has widespread territorial services, territorial controls, regional epidemic systems, an IT network for general practitioners and general managers of the public health centres of the ASL”, said prof. Giorgio Palù, former president of the European and Italian Virology Society. He remembers, among other things, that it was the Republic of Venice that set up the first hospital in the world, in the 15th century, which played an important role in the greater tradition and attention of Venetian healthcare to epidemics.
Zaia and his 130 days of consecutive press conferences
A promise is a promise! It has been 130 days, at 12:30 (local time), without ever missing an appointment. Luca Zaia wanted to assure the Venetians of his constant support, to update citizens on the infection and the victims of Coronavirus in the region, while managing the situation. In fact, he went further and dropped the formal communication. He explained laws and provisions in a simple way, he answered basic questions coming directly from the citizens via social media and, even, got a 10kilograms Easter Egg and 20 real eggs to make chicken as a present. “I also did these things – Zaia had commented – and this is the future of Veneto; I’ll have an incubator put in the office.” And so it was: the incubator arrived at the live site and the eggs hatched even during the press point. It was a journey, that of Zaia, taken together with all those who followed him from their homes. The governor entered everyone’s homes every day for 130 consecutive days.
His smile, his assertiveness towards the conditions imposed by the capital that were not helping the region, and his charismatic way of leadership helped him gain very strong popularity among his followers; fact proved by social media groups (Le Tose di Zaia, 130k followers, a support group created, initially, as a counter candidate for the Le Bimbe di Giuseppe Conte group- 108k followers), hashtags, tweets and articles.
The Venetian Model – summary
All the actions mentioned above can be resumed to a simple recipe: Prevention, Ferm Action, Decisiveness, Care, Strong Leadership, and Constant Communication.
So, once again, La Serenissima shows the world its greatness and power.