What if we close the provinces instead of the regions?

What if we close the provinces instead of the regions?

The proposal to divide Italy by provinces in organizing the 'color' bands and lockdowns has been circulating for months. There are potential advantages but also several critical issues: at the moment the hypothesis of abandoning the scheme by regions seems rather remote

(photo: Ross Sneddon / Unsplash) The choice of the territorial scale on which to set the anti-contagion restrictions is a theme that has accompanied us since the beginning of the pandemic, and above all from the so-called second wave, that is, starting with the resurgence of infections at the end of summer and the month of October. In theory, the possibilities are many: a single national area without any distinction from South Tyrol to Sicily, the subdivision into regions (with the exception of the autonomous provinces), organization on a provincial scale and even something even finer. , on a municipal or poly-municipal basis.

In fact, the division into provinces is the only one that has never been attempted. Before the first lockdown, at the beginning of the epidemic in Italy between the end of February and the beginning of March, red zones were imposed on the few municipalities that (at least from official data) were the most affected by the new coronavirus. Then we moved on to national closure, uniform across the country. So - with a leap forward of many months - we arrived at the organization by regions with the famous and creaking color zones: first yellow, orange and red, then with further shades of color, temporary national uniformizations during the holiday period and then the return to the pre-Christmas model, with the new idea of ​​the white zone, perhaps more a hope than a concrete possibility.

The Italian discussion on provincial closures

Although the hypothesis has always been circulating in our country, a real discussion on this issue arose between the end of October and the beginning November, when it became necessary to adopt new anti-contagion measures before the situation got out of hand for good. At that stage it was the Technical-Scientific Committee itself, at least according to the information received by the press, that proposed closures only on a provincial basis rather than on a national or regional basis. However, it must be said that at the time the key point, based on the experience of the first long lockdown, was to no longer reach the complete and uniform closure of Italy, both because it would have made little sense from a scientific point of view and because the government itself had promised that there would no longer be a total lockout.

At the end of the discussion, as we know, it was decided to opt for the three-color model on a regional basis, as in fact continues to be today, always at net of the methodological adjustments on the parameters and on the coloration of the bands.

The novelty of the last few days, which is actually a non-novelty, is that it is now evident that the system of yellow, orange and red zones needs some way of being prolonged over time, while perhaps with the modest decline in infections at the beginning of December we were under the illusion that we could face a more relaxed period from the end of the holidays onwards. This is why this week's news is the re-proposal (on a social and media level) of the model by provinces, at least at the level of example and general discussion. At the moment, however, the political news does not seem to reveal the intention to seriously evaluate this hypothesis, but rather the conviction of continuing with the regional scheme seems to be increasingly rooted.

Some pros and cons

Of course there is no absolute best or worst between the subdivision by provinces and by regions, but there are several considerations. In favor of the provincialization of the bands there is a main and dominant argument: refining the spatial map of Italy means being able to be more widespread on the territory, therefore concentrating the closures in the really most critical areas, allowing a certain degree of reopening in those areas where the contagion is not particularly widespread. In short, to reduce those sacrifices perceived as unnecessary that some provinces experience as an imposition due to infections in other territories in the same region. And if a municipal subdivision would be concretely unmanageable, the provincial level could be a fair compromise between the differentiation of the territories and the practicability of the measures.

Also on the same front, then, additional evaluations are added. For example, the supporters of the proposal explain, citizens could be made to feel more directly responsible for their destiny, since the regional dimension is so large that it leads people to perceive themselves as insignificant pawns in a too big game, making them not responsible. Finally, some peripheral provinces could be reopened immediately with respect to the large centers, where for a series of factors the infections have always remained rather low.

On the other side of the scale, the possible objections are several. For example, breaking up Italy into 107 territorial areas would greatly increase the borders to be garrisoned, or in any case (even if you decide not to garrison them) would greatly increase the number of people who have to or should move from one area to another on a daily basis. The political framework risks being even more complex: in addition to having the national interlocutors and those of the individual regions, further more local actors would be included in the complex chessboard of stakeholders, further entangling negotiations. And the regions, which each manage their own local health care, would find themselves having to differentiate the treatment for the individual provinces, with further possible problems of internal conflict. In short, already with the regional model we are seeing continuous squabbles, and with the provinces the quarrels would risk growing dramatically.

Another complication would be from the numerical point of view. It would be necessary to evaluate the various parameters (think for example of Rt) no longer on a regional basis but on a provincial basis, unless we limit ourselves to even more simplified parameters such as the sole calculation of registered cases or hospitalizations. And the reduction of the famous 21 parameters, hoped for for months, would be counterbalanced by an enormous growth in the number of territorial entities to be evaluated. In short, we would have tables with fewer columns, but with more rows. Not to mention that in general the interprovincial mobility, also from the point of view of health structures, is much higher than the interregional one.

A possible way to solve these problems is the one proposed by Paolo Spada and Pills of optimism. That is to say, reduce the possible colors to two: red and green, or red and white if you prefer. In this scheme, therefore, a province would be either in lockdown or in a (cautious and measured) free all, without intermediate conditions. With the advantage of having a more manageable version, but at the same time with rather abrupt jumps in space and time. With adjacent municipalities in different provinces that could have totally different measures, and changes from week to week that could revolutionize people's lives. Losing also all those shades of openness which, as far as possible, try to keep a series of activities alive.

Finally, a neutral point: however the parameters are chosen and calibrated, and whatever the number of colors , we should understand how much in practice the situation would change compared to that of the regions. In other words, there are areas of the country where the virus circulates the most, and the regional subdivision already identifies and intercepts these areas quite well. Of course, there are provinces that are penalized with excessive closures, and others that instead deserve the lockdown but are saved (so to speak) from the rest of the region where the situation is better. But how many provinces are actually misaligned with respect to the region they belong to? Is it really worth it, or would it be more the complication than the benefit?

Proposals, scientific publications and case studies

In reality, the division into regions already places Italy among the countries with the greatest territorial articulation of the measures. In fact, in many states the decision is to standardize the measures throughout the national territory, without providing for distinctions. Of course there are also countries with internal divisions, such as the United States where each state can take its own measures or the United Kingdom where there are differences between Scotland, Wales and England.

Perhaps the most extreme example is that of Portugal, which with its 10 million inhabitants has just organized differentiations in 308 different territorial municipalities. However, it must be said that the decisions, when taken, concern many municipalities at a time, so much so that in fact there is a good uniformity at the regional level, with a distinction that tends to be created between the more populated urban areas and the peripheral ones.

The distinction between more or less large inhabited centers could also be interesting for Italy, but complex to put into practice. In reality, something in this sense has already been done with the limitations to travel during the Christmas period (and after) and the distinction according to the number of inhabitants. On the other hand, monitoring and distinction based on data is complex, because in practice it would mean going down to the level of individual municipalities.

The scientific literature on this discussion is still rather sparse. There are studies that suggest paying attention to the introduction of territorial subdivisions, because they could exacerbate nationalisms or localisms (depending on the scale at which the problem is looked at), emphasizing rivalry rather than territorial cooperation. Others who underline that the most appropriate type of geographical division depends above all on the order of the state and its internal hierarchy, explaining that interventions are usually more efficient on the same spatial scale on which the health system is organized. For Italy, therefore, it would be the regional one. But in all cases it is definitely early to talk about scientific evidence, both from the point of view of the effectiveness to contain the infections and for the determined economic impact.

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