Covid-19 and Italy’s Case Fatality Rate: What’s the Catch?

Matteo Villa
Content Type
Commentary and Analysis
Italian Institute for International Political Studies (ISPI)
COVID-19’s lethality in Italy is a highly discussed figure. When compared with other major countries, Italy’s 9.9% case fatality rate (CFR) as of 24 March 2020 is the highest by far. But relying on this figure is misleading. By itself, the CFR tells us almost nothing about COVID-19’s plausible lethality (infected fatality rate, or IFR). On the opposite, recent studies place China’s IFR at 0.7%. By relying on this figure, ISPI’s best estimate for COVID-19’s plausible lethality in Italy is 1.1%. The gap between the IFR and the CFR figures can be largely attributed to the number of infected persons that have not been tested and, therefore, escape counting. ISPI estimates that the number of active cases in Italy is at around 530,000 as of 24 March 2020, or almost ten times larger than the official count of 55,000 active cases. This paper shows that the CFR is an unreliable indicator of COVID-19’s plausible lethality, and there is not enough evidence to suggest that Italy’s IFR is much higher than expected. On the opposite, a direct comparison between the CFR and the IFR is much better placed to paint a more realistic picture of the evolution of the ongoing epidemic.
Health, Pandemic, Data, COVID-19
Political Geography
Europe, Italy