Experiences and Implications of the First Wave of the COVID-19 Emergency in Italy: A Social Science Perspective

Document Type : Original Article


1 University of Westminster, London, UK

2 London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, London, UK


Italy was among the first countries in the world to experience the devastating consequences of the COVID-19 emergency and suffered its consequences to a devastating scale. Understanding how the country got there in spite of a relatively well-resourced public and private health system in at least part of the country, is imperative to be able to operationalise any lessons learnt for future epidemics in Italy and beyond.

The paper reports the findings from a research scoping exercise conducted in Italy in 2020. We conducted extensive archival research and collected 29 testimonies either in writing or as semi-structured interviews. We sampled purposively with a stratification strategy in mind, specifically aiming to gain testimonies from different social groups,
classes, ages, and nature of employment. Our sample also reflects the different experiences between the Northern and Southern regions, a divide that has long been economically and politically salient in the country.

Evidence and considerations of epidemiological nature normally guide public health responses to crises. This study supports the idea that socio-economic, cultural and political factors also affect transmission outcomes. We highlight specifically the role that socio-economic and health inequalities play in this respect, through factors such as overcrowded dwellings, lack of alternatives to in-person work, informal work set-ups, pervasive organised crime presence, poorly planned social support and communication strategies.

A socio-economic and political lens is needed in addition to an epidemiological one to fully understand the social experiences and implications of public health crises such as the COVID-19 pandemic and to devise effective response measures that are locally relevant and acceptable. Thus insights provided by multi-disciplinary task forces can render policy-making and social support interventions as well as communication strategies more effective.


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  • Receive Date: 18 October 2021
  • Revise Date: 12 December 2022
  • Accept Date: 26 February 2023
  • First Publish Date: 28 February 2023