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Italy's Ambassador To The U.S. On Coronavirus, Trump Travel Ban

NOEL KING, HOST:

Italy is one of the countries that has been hit hardest by this virus. Earlier this week, the prime minister imposed travel restrictions on the entire country. I'm on the line now with Armando Varricchio. He's Italy's ambassador to the United States. Good morning, Mr. Ambassador.

ARMANDO VARRICCHIO: Good morning.

KING: Italy's death toll has continued to rise over the past two days. Is the lockdown working, do you think?

VARRICCHIO: We do hope it's going to work. Of course, we have to cope with further rising in positive tests. As of yesterday, we had, all in all, 15,000 Italians who have been tested positive and more than 1,000 deaths.

KING: Fifteen-thousand people tested positive. I want to ask you about Italy's testing capacity. One of the problems we've been having here in the United States is there do not appear to be enough tests, and they are not getting to the places where they are needed. Is that a problem at all in Italy, or does Italy have the testing capacity that it needs at this point?

VARRICCHIO: We do. This is part of our policy. This is the reason why, since the very early days that we experienced this virus, we tested thousands, thousands of people. So this is why we decided to go aggressively and to test. You know that in Italy, the test is free, so everybody's entitled to to ask their medical doctor or a local hospital to get a swab test. And this further spreading the numbers of tests made up in these very, very high results (ph). So now we have full control of the numbers, but the major challenge as of today is to stop this further spreading up the virus because these numbers are putting our health system facilities under heavy strain.

KING: Could you talk about that and expand on that a little bit? Because we are seeing these reports of the health care system just being pushed to its limits - hospitals running out of ICU beds and oxygen supplies. What is the status there? Are you concerned that the health care system is at risk of collapse, or is it not quite that serious yet?

VARRICCHIO: I wouldn't say it's under risk of collapse. But certainly, this is the most serious challenge that our system has been confronted with in all its history. You know, we're very proud of our health system. It's one of the Italian excellencies and the reason why we in Italy every citizen is entitled to get a universal health system and protection. But certainly, the numbers, if continue to grow, will put a pressure that our system will have great difficulty in coping with. So this is absolutely crucial these days - stop the spreading of the virus.

And this also explains the reason why the government of Italy decided for the first time during peacetime to enforce such strong and tight measures. We rely not just on the strength of the authority but first and foremost on the willingness of our people to respond because we don't have to forget that while health is a constitutional right protected by our constitution, there are also many other rights that have to be protected. And enforcing these measures in a democratic country like Italy rely first and foremost on the dedication, engagement and willingness of our people.

KING: Let me ask you lastly - President Trump said Wednesday that travelers from Europe will be temporarily not allowed to enter the United States. What do you think about that?

VARRICCHIO: This has been a decision taken with regard to Europe, particularly those countries that are part of a treaty called Schengen that allow nationals from different countries to travel freely without showing any passport at a border. We don't have borders in Europe anymore. So this shows that, furthermore, there was a need to increase international cooperation. We are all in together in this challenge.

KING: You would push for more cooperation, not closing borders. Ambassador Armando Varricchio, thank you so much for your time.

VARRICCHIO: My pleasure. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.