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Why are so many Italian doctors dying?

The share of doctors who are 55 years or older by country. Credit: Intertemporal economics

April 3, 2020 - 7:00am

What if it’s all an over-reaction? What if it’s not much worse than a bad year for seasonal flu? What if the statistics are blurring the distinction between people who have died from Covid-19 and those who have died with it?

As for Italy, could it be that the media is generalising from the worst-hit communities to the whole country?

But if it’s all over-hyped then how do we explain the deaths of so many Italian doctors? News reports from, for example, CNN and Sky News, quote differing figures — but that’s because the toll keeps on rising. As, far as I can tell, the latest numbers come from this page on the website of the FNOMCeO — a federation of doctors’ organisations. It’s a “list of doctors who died during the Covid-19 epidemic” — and it is regularly updated.

As of 10am on the 5th April, there were 77 names on the list. I can’t imagine how doctors and other medical staff in the UK must feel looking at what their Italian counterparts are going through.

As always with Covid-19, age is an important risk factor. Take a look at the chart above that was tweeted out by Merryn Somerset Webb of the FT and MoneyWeek; for different countries, it shows the share of doctors who are 55 years or older — and thus more vulnerable to the virus.

Italy is at the high end of the scale, with over half its doctors in this age group — and the UK right at the opposite end with the smallest share of older doctors.

However, as Somerset Webb points out, we now have many retired doctors and other medical staff returning to the front line. The Italian situation underlines the extent of their courage. The very least that we can do for them is play our part in slowing the spread of the disease.

Peter Franklin is Associate Editor of UnHerd. He was previously a policy advisor and speechwriter on environmental and social issues.


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Patrick Cosgrove
Patrick Cosgrove
4 years ago

Agree entirely.