Italy regains grim distinction of having worst COVID-19 death toll in Europe

Flowers and stones placed in the shape of a heart are laid on a burial site for COVID-19 victims in Milan, Italy.
(Luca Bruno / Associated Press)

Italy has eclipsed Britain to become — once again — the nation with the worst official COVID-19 death toll in Europe.

Italy was the first Western nation to be hit hard by the coronavirus at the beginning of the year. On Sunday, it registered 484 new COVID-19 deaths.

Although that was one of its lowest one-day tallies in about a month, it was enough to push Italy’s official overall death toll up to 64,520, surpassing Britain’s count of 64,267, according to Johns Hopkins University.


Both numbers understate the true toll of the pandemic. Counting criteria differ in the two countries, and many COVID-19 deaths, especially early in the crisis, are believed to have gone undetected, including those of elderly people in nursing homes who were not tested for the coronavirus.

Among the reasons cited for Italy’s high death toll was its status as the first country in Europe to be slammed by the pandemic, leaving health workers to grapple with a largely unknown disease. Italy also has a lower ratio of medical staff to patients compared with other European nations.

By contrast, Germany, a nation with a much larger population than Italy, has a death toll one-third of Italy’s or Britain’s.

Italy could soon reclaim a record — the most COVID-19 deaths in Europe — and is still trying to figure out how to protect its older people.

Dec. 12, 2020

A little more than half of Italy’s known COVID-19 deaths were registered in the first surge. On Sunday, the country reported another 17,938 coronavirus infections, raising its official cumulative tally to 1.84 million.

By far, the region registering the highest number of new infections was the northern region of Veneto. Italy’s Lombardy region, which was especially hard-hit during the first wave of the coronavirus outbreak, has the highest number of cases and deaths overall.

Largely heeding the advice of medical experts, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has tightened travel rules for the period spanning the Christmas, New Year’s and Epiphany holidays. Starting Dec. 21 and running through Jan. 6, Italians will not be allowed to travel between regions except for work or urgent reasons such as health problems.


On the holidays themselves, under the nationwide restrictions, Italians can’t leave their towns, as the government seeks to discourage families and friends from gathering in large numbers indoors.