Italy's COVID-19 Response

This brief provides an overview of some of these approaches Italy has taken to help mitigate COVID-19's proliferation.

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April 16, 2020

Italy is one of the countries hardest hit by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19).1 As the virus quickly spread around the world, Italy’s government and large companies alike have had to make split second decisions to help mitigate its proliferation.

In a span of a few weeks, Italy went from discovering its first case of COVID-19 to implementing a nationwide lockdown that regulated the movement of all people throughout the country.2,3 The lockdown included the closure of all non-essential businesses and schools,  which had drastic implications to the country’s economy and everyday way of life.3

Health System Response

Italy’s government and large companies alike have had to make split second decisions to help mitigate its proliferation.

Italy’s health system response varied by region. Some areas of the country took a more conservative approach to contain COVID-19, while others were more proactive. For example, Veneto, a region in northeastern Italy, was preemptive in containing the virus. The region’s multifaceted strategy included:

  • Extensive early testing of symptomatic and asymptomatic cases. Much of this was done by pressuring the central government to help them boost diagnostic capacity.2
  • Proactive tracing of potential positive cases. If a person tested positive, everyone in his or her household, as well as the neighbors, were tested. If testing kits were unavailable, that individual would be asked to self-quarantine.2
  • A strong emphasis on home diagnosis and care. Whenever possible, samples were collected directly from an individual’s home and then processed in regional and local university laboratories.2
  • Targeted, specific efforts to monitor and protect health care and other essential workers. This included medical professionals, those in contact with at-risk populations (e.g., caregivers in nursing homes) and workers exposed to the public (e.g., supermarket cashiers, pharmacists and protective services staff).2

In contrast, the Lombardy region took a more cautious approach to testing. Instead of focusing on both asymptomatic and symptomatic cases, health officials chose to put a stronger emphasis on symptomatic cases.2 The region also made very limited investments in proactively tracing cases, home care and monitoring and protecting the health workforce.2 The policies implemented in Veneto reduced the burden on hospitals and minimized the risk of COVID-19 spreading throughout medical facilities, a problem that negatively impacted hospitals in Lombardy.2 In sum, the health systems in both regions had different approaches, which impacted how each region could contain the virus and reduce the burden on local health systems.2

Impact on Businesses and Employers

COVID-19 has left millions of Italians temporarily unemployed.4 In response, Italy’s government  unveiled a €400 billion stimulus to help businesses.4 The “Cura Italia” (Cure Italy) decree was signed by the Italian government to help established companies survive the economic crisis caused by COVID-19.5 The program will provide €340 billion in government-backed loans to help export-oriented companies with high turnover rates and protect companies from being purchased by non-Italian competitors.4

The Cura Italia decree also adopted several measures to protect the health and well-being of citizens and ensure that businesses survive. One such measure includes providing access to wage compensation funds (WCFs) and supplementary funds.5 Both funds cover 80% of the total remuneration payable to an employee for time not worked due to COVID-19,5 which will ease the burden on employers.5 The decree also bars companies from laying off workers without "justified objective reasons."6  

In addition to providing support for working Italians, in March, the government provided self-employed and seasonal workers with a €600 payment to help cushion the pain of lost business.6 Bonuses of €100 will also be provided for low-wage employees.6

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Flexible Working

Italy has a relatively new smart working arrangement that has been thrust into the spotlight due to the global COVID-19 emergency. In 2017, the Italian government introduced flexible working options into law. Prior to this, Italians had a very traditional work environment—with very little of the population working remotely.7 Typically, employees can only telework through a formal special agreement that they have with their employer.8 However, due to the unprecedented nature of the COVID-19 emergency, a formal special agreement is no longer required, which helps employers have a better handle on business continuity.8 Specifically, the government developed a simplified process for smart working, which enables Italians to work from home for up to 6 months.8 This process includes an employee self-certifying that  he or she is prepared for smart working. Employees must send the required documentation to the Italian Ministry of Labor via  the Ministry’s website, replacing the information that would normally be filed.8

In addition, employers in Italy are required to inform employee in writing on how smart working must be performed, with a focus on:

  • Hierarchical and supervisory powers of the employer;
  • Timing for rest and breaks;
  • Technology and organizational measures to ensure compliance with laws regarding resting hours—including the “right to disconnect” from remote working;
  • Employee conduct; and
  • Employee’s rights to receive necessary training.8

While employees will be working remotely, under Italian law, employers are still required to protect the health and safety of their employees.8 As such, employers are required to send their employees information on risks regarding their health and safety.8 Much of this is guidance provided on the Italian National Institute for Insurance Against Occupational Accidents’ webpage. (In Italian)

  • 1 | The Center for Systems Science and Engineering at Johns Hopkins University. Coronavirus COVID-19 Global Cases. https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/map.html. Published 2020. Accessed April 13, 2020.
  • 2 | Pisano GP, Sadun R, Zanini M. Lessons from Italy’s response to coronavirus. Harvard Business Review. https://hbr.org/2020/03/lessons-from-italys-response-to-coronavirus. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
  • 3 | Schnirring L. Italy expands COVID-19 lockdown to whole country. https://www.cidrap.umn.edu/news-perspective/2020/03/italy-expands-covid-19-lockdown-whole-country. Published 2020. Accessed April 6, 2020.
  • 4 | Zaks D. Italy injects record 400 bn euros into pandemic-hit economy. https://www.thejakartapost.com/news/2020/04/07/italy-injects-record-400-bn-euros-into-pandemic-hit-economy.html. Published 2020. Accessed April 7, 2020.
  • 5 | Norton Rose Fulbright LLP. COVID-19: Italy sets up a wage compensation fund to help employers overcome the crisis. 2020.
  • 6 | Channel News Asia. No layoffs, reduced rent: 'Italian cure' for COVID-19 pandemic. https://www.channelnewsasia.com/news/world/coronavirus-covid-19-italy-economy-measures-12554500. Published 2020. Accessed April 13, 2020.
  • 7 | Weil S. Smart working - Italy: New flexible working opportunity. https://www.fisherphillips.com/Cross-Border-Employer/smart-working-italy-new-flexible-working-opportunity. Published 2017. ANational Institute for Insurance Against Occupational Accidents  (In Italian)  ccessed March 31, 2020.
  • 8 | Podda R, Colnago O, Morgia L. COVID-19: Tools for Italian employers in facing the emergency. The National Law Review. https://www.natlawreview.com/article/covid-19-tools-italian-employers-facing-emergency. Published 2020. Accessed April 1, 2020.

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