The choice of linear cuts to essential services presents us with the addition
“Milan, intensive care for flu collapse: 48 seriously ill patients already. Many operations postponed” (Corriere della Sera, January 10, 2018).
“Influenza, changeover of emergencies and blocked ambulances” (Ansa, January 1, 2015).
First aid, chaos all over Italy. Stretchers, mattresses on the floor, insufficient and stressed staff” (Quotidiano Sanità, January 13, 2015).
“Emergencies boiling, the flu emergency also knocks out hospitals” (Torino Today, December 30, 2016).
These are just a few examples of the headlines that could be read in all the newspapers in recent years, long before the Covid-19 pandemic. I remind them not to compare the current situation with that of other flu epidemics, nor to minimize or deny, as the no vax do, the seriousness of the Covid19 infection. I have an enhanced green pass, have had all the recommended shots including the flu one, and if others have been recommended, I will definitely get it. I mention them in an attempt to draw attention to the weakness of our health system and the complexity of public services in our country, the result of the austerity policies of the past decades.
Even a normal flu epidemic has brought our hospital emergency rooms to their knees, exposed the endemic difficulty of hospitals in admitting and helping the elderly and frail, whose lives even a “normal” flu puts at risk. Even then, our health care system’s current spending suffered cuts, hiring was frozen, retiring workers were not replaced except through precarious contracts and relocations, and the number of beds has been drastically and gradually reduced. And even then, we are paying the price for these policies: a harmless flu undermined the responsiveness of the system, both hospital and territorial, forced the postponement of surgeries and routine acts, triggered the frantic search for additional beds.
We are now confronted, in a more serious and dangerous form, with the same question. The Omicron variant may not be more dangerous than the previous ones, but it is more transmissible. The more infections there are, the greater the risk of putting the healthcare system in crisis. Vaccines proved to be fundamental in countering the first dramatic phase of the pandemic and are now proving indispensable in building the conditions for a life in relative safety with the virus. And if there is urgency today, it is to extend vaccination to the whole world, to countries that do not have the means. But vaccines are not enough. The responsibility of individuals, their capacity for self-control are not enough either. It can limit the risks associated with recreational, sporting and contact activities that each of us can control. But nothing can engage the responsibility of individuals as to the use of public transport, school attendance, professional activities. And today, services with reduced staff may not be able to respond to the growth of infections of their employees and quarantines.
The calls from the principals or those from the emergency physicians, which have been repeated non-stop since the start of the pandemic, should make us think. We do not get out of the emergency only if we start producing and consuming again. And public resources cannot be used only for the resumption of production, which risks becoming a real “unhappy growth”.
The choice to reduce public spending through linear cuts that have affected essential services, a choice pursued for years and never really questioned in the years of the pandemic, presents the addition. The assertion that “now is the time to give money and not to take it back” must also apply to municipalities, public health, schools, suburban trains and urban transport, social services assistance and care.
There is a responsibility that can only be public: to guarantee the greatest possible security to the people who have to face the virus and live with it: workers and workers, children who go to school, the elderly and the sick who need hospitals, to people who need help.
So strengthening transport, reducing the number of children in each class, strengthening the responsiveness of the public health system can only represent an absolute priority.
Buffer measures are not enough, only by derogation from the laws in force, to be ready to return to “normal” scarcity or to a few enlargements here and there, to strictly fixed-term hiring, where the urgency is more dramatic . It is a question of constructing a real plan for the development and adaptation of our social infrastructures. A country’s security is not limited to roads or bridges. Security also consists of the collective ability to take care of people and their fundamental rights. Otherwise we risk continuing to enter into crisis with each variant of the Covid or worse in the face of a future virus which makes the leap of species.