POPE Francis has blamed tax dodgers for Italy’s currently coronavirus woes saying those who refuse to remit money to the treasury are partly to blame for the fact that the country’s health facilities are struggling to cope with the pandemic.
Italy has been one of the worst affected countries by the virus outbreak, ranking only second to China where it all began. In total, 31,506 Italians have been affected by the virus, of which there have been 2,503 deaths, representing over a quarter of all fatalities worldwide.
This morning, Pope Francis backed a prominent Italian journalist’s view that tax dodgers were partly to blame as Italy’s health facilities struggle to cope with the crisis. Pope Francis, who is secluded in the Vatican and holding his general audiences over the internet instead of before crowds in St Peter’s Square, said he was very impressed by an article by journalist Fabio Fazio, who listed 15 lessons he learned from coronavirus crisis and quoted one of them in its entirety.
Mr Fazio wrote that the crisis should spur people to appreciate what really matters in life, such as personal relationships, solidarity and respect for the environment and to demand that politicians govern with responsibility. Italy’s chronically under-funded public hospitals have been pushed to breaking point at the epicentre of the contagion in the north and as less affluent regions scramble to prepare for an onslaught.
According to Italian Treasury figures published last September, tax dodgers cost the country €109bn on average each year between 2013 and 2015. According to the European Commission, Italy also has the highest level of value added tax evasion in the European Union.
Quoting quoted verbatim from the article, Pope Francis said: “It has become evident that those who do not pay taxes do not only commit a felony but also a crime. If there are not enough hospital beds and artificial respirators, it is also their fault.”
Italy spends more of its budget on healthcare than any sector apart from pensions and has been cutting health costs for decades. Under pressure to curb the euro zone’s second-largest public debt, Italian governments have slashed funding for regions and in turn regional authorities have targeted health spending, one of the largest items on their own budget.
As a result, the number of hospital beds per inhabitant in Italy has fallen to among the lowest in the euro zone. Over the past three weeks, 1,135 people have needed intensive care in Lombardy, the northern region hardest hit but it has only 800 intensive care beds, according to Giacomo Grasselli, the head of the intensive care unit at Milan’s Policlinico hospital.
Authorities have been working to set up hundreds of intensive care beds in specially created spaces in Milan and Rome but are still waiting for sufficient respirators and qualified personnel. Italy may need international assistance to help overcome the crisis.