Italy has been the worst-hit country by the coronavirus pandemic so far in Europe, with the highest number of deaths and cases among its 60 million citizens. The country has grappled with the outbreak since its first cases emerged in late February, imposing a nation-wide lockdown in early March. Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told the newspaper El Pais on Sunday: “We are in the most acute phase.”

Italy’s death toll is now the highest in the world at 11,591.

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Fatalities passed the milestone on Saturday, with an increase of 889 since the last figures were released on Friday, according to Italy’s Civil Protection Agency.

With more than 100,000 confirmed cases, Italy appears to have the highest death rate on the planet and as the country enters its sixth week of restrictions, many are wondering why.

According to two economists Francesco Del Prato and Matteo Paradisi, there is a simple explanation behind it: there are many more people infected with COVID-19 than the country is reporting.

Speaking to TPI, Mr Del Prato said: “We are without a doubt underestimating the number of cases in Italy. That’s the key to everything.

“It is not because we don’t want to. It’s just that we don’t have the capacity to do mass testing.

“If you observe a graph on the number of cases, you can see that COVID-19 is different depending on where you are.

“This is just because France, Germany and the UK are only reporting 10 percent of the cases.

“In South Korea, which has done mass testing, you can see that its death rate is much lower.”

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Mr Paradisi added: “Even in our regions in Italy, you can see how much we are underestimating COVID-19 cases.

“Even Bertolaso – the commander in chief of the Italian Civil Protection department – said it. There are 10 times more cases than we are reporting.”

Mr Del Prato and Mr Paradisi’s comments were echoed by John Ioannidis, a professor of epidemiology at Stanford University, who has branded the data we have about the pandemic “utterly unreliable”.

He told the Financial Times: “We don’t know if we are failing to capture infections by a factor of three or 300.”

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If thousands more people are surviving than we know about, then current mortality rate estimates are too high – perhaps by a large margin.

Rosalind Smyth, professor of child health at UCL, added that official UK coronavirus data was also “so misleading that it should not be used”.

Using conservative estimates, the true number of people infected “is likely to be 5-10 times higher”, she said.

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