Will coronavirus be as bad in the UK as in Italy? How the two countries compare

By Claire Schofield
Monday, 30th March 2020, 10:19 am
Updated Monday, 30th March 2020, 10:19 am
Italy has been the worst-hit European country for cases of coronavirus (Photo: Shutterstock)
Italy has been the worst-hit European country for cases of coronavirus (Photo: Shutterstock)

Italy has been the worst-hit European country for cases of coronavirus, with the death toll having surpassed 10,800.

While the virus first hit the north of Italy, it is now spreading rapidly across the south. The country has already been on lockdown since 10 March and cases are now gradually beginning to slow each day

Health experts who have been studying the virus have said that the UK is now two weeks behind Italy in terms of the number of deaths.

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    So will the situation in the UK play out the same as in Italy? And how do our lockdown procedures and government guidelines compare?

    Here’s what you should know.

    How does lockdown in the UK and Italy compare?


    The Prime Minister announced strict new regulations on Monday 23 March in a bid to reduce the spread of coronavirus.

    Boris Johnson ordered that people should now only leave their homes for essential reasons, which includes infrequent shopping, medical needs, daily exercise, or to go to work if it cannot be done from home.

    The lockdown measures will initially be in place for at least three weeks, taking effect from Monday (23 Mar) evening.

    The situation is to be reviewed in 21 days and relaxed if the Government believes it to be possible and safe to do so.


    Italy shut down the northern region on 8 March - the hardest hit by the virus - and extended restrictions to the whole country just two days later.

    The measures meant people could only leave their homes for “urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies, or health reasons”, and anyone who tested positive for coronavirus were told not to leave for any reason.

    Any citizens who had a fever or respiratory symptoms were also strongly encouraged to stay at home and limit social contact, including with their doctor.

    Public and private companies were urged to put their staff on leave, in a bid to avoid work-related travel, and only supermarkets and pharmacies remained open.

    On 22 March, Italy extended its restrictions, closing all non-essential businesses and banning any movement other than for “non-deferrable and proven business or health reasons, or other urgent matters”.

    Italy’s lockdown measures are to remain in place until at least 3 April.

    When will coronavirus peak in the UK and in Italy?


    The UK is expected to reach a peak number of cases by Easter, in around two weeks' time (12 April), after which the number of cases should start to decline.

    Experts who are studying the spread of the virus in Italy believe that the UK is around two weeks behind, prompting the Prime Minister to impose a lockdown and strict social distancing guidelines in an effort to slow infection rates down.


    Coronavirus infections in Italy are yet to reach their peak, the head of the country’s national health institute has said.

    However, there have been signs of a slowing of infections, suggesting that a peak may not be far away. After this point, new cases are expected to show a visible downward trend.

    When did Italy and the UK close schools?


    The Prime Minister announced all schools across England, Wales, Scotland and Northern Ireland were to close on Friday 20 March, with the closures in place “until further notice”.

    Schools and nurseries across the UK are now closed for all pupils except those of key workers and vulnerable children.


    Italy closed all of its schools and universities nationwide on Thursday 4 March, and are likely to remain closed beyond 3 April.

    Schools in the northern region, which was the worst affected, were closed earlier on 24 February, and exams have been cancelled.

    When were mass gatherings banned?


    Mass gatherings of more than 500 were banned in the UK from the weekend of 21 March.

    The ban was introduced as part of emergency measures to curb the spread of the virus.


    Italy initially announced that all major sporting events would be played behind closed doors, but all events have now been suspended until at least 3 April.

    Mass gatherings have also been banned, while museums, nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and other leisure venues, including ski resorts, have also closed.

    Religious institutions have remained open, although people are to stay a metre from one another. Marriage ceremonies, baptisms and funerals have been banned.

    How does the number of cases compare to the UK?


    The UK currently has more than 19,500 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and has recorded over 1,200 deaths.

    The trajectory of cases and deaths in the UK is very similar to that seen in northern Italy, with the outbreak there is around two to three weeks ahead.

    This means the UK could see a spike in the number of cases much like Italy in a couple of weeks’ time when the outbreak is expected to reach its peak.


    As of 30 March, Italy has more than 97,600 confirmed cases of coronavirus, and has recorded over 10,700 deaths.

    Have the lockdown measures been effective in Italy?

    Italy recorded a slight dip in the number of cases this week, reporting a fourth successive day of slowed infection rates on Wednesday (25 Mar), although the number of deaths still remained high at 683.

    However, the gradual slowing of infection suggests that the lockdown measures are starting to take effect, and the UK could expect to follow a similar pattern.

    The UK is currently in the ‘delay’ phase of its coronavirus response, meaning it is too late to contain it, so efforts are instead being made to slow the spread.

    This will allow health officials to cope when the number of cases peaks, relieving some pressure on medical staff.

    Deputy Chief Medical Officer for England, Dr Jenny Harries, said: “If people have cut down their social interactions, we would start to see a change in the graph.

    “The peak will be pushed forward, but the height will be lower and we can manage NHS hospital care safely.”