Carl Heneghan and Tom Jefferson

The dire effects of Italy’s coronavirus lockdown

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Locking down Britain sooner would have saved thousands of lives, according to Neil Ferguson. But while Ferguson’s claims have been rightly contested – and the merits of shutting down Britain, particularly in view of today’s woeful GDP figures – remain debatable, one thing is very clear: lockdown is having a dreadful effect on the lives of many.

A survey from Italy, which went into lockdown a few weeks before Britain, shows why. 20,000 people were quizzed by researchers at the Mario Negri Institute in Milan on the psychological consequences of forcing people to quarantine themselves. And the findings – almost certainly replicable in Britain – make for grim reading.

Over half of the respondents reported some negative psychological effects; one in twenty reported a severe impact. When the Negri researchers enquired about the type of problems experienced, one in ten said they had had moderate to severe depressive symptoms, six per cent moderate to severe anxiety symptoms and four per cent moderate to severe physical symptoms. Feelings of helplessness and the sudden halting of everyday life brought about by the lockdown led to a surge in anxiety.

Inevitably, those worse hit were the poorest, particularly women, and those with lower educational levels and who lived in smaller houses with no gardens. But the effects of lockdown were also palpable for those spending quarantine in more comfortable surroundings. Those answering the Mario Negri Institute survey were more likely to have a larger house with a private garden: less than one in seven lived alone, and just under two-thirds were from the hardest-hit region, Lombardy, the first European region to witness the surge in the European phase of the pandemic.

The survey showed that while wealth did play some part in how people were affected by enforced isolation, there were other, less considered elements to how badly people were impacted by lockdown.

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