The poor people from Italy are significantly the more likely to lose their lives due to the coronavirus or COVID-19 in Italy than the higher-income groups, the nation's first significant study into the disease's disproportionate social impact showed on Friday.

Italy is one of the world's most affected countries due to the deadly novel virus with around 35,000 deaths since the outbreak emerged in February 21 and was the first nation from Europe to report large-scale cases.

In its annual report, the national statistics bureau ISTAT studied mortality rates for each month from January 2019 to March 2020, when the outbreak took off, focusing on the education levels of those who died. On average, Italians who leave school early with few qualifications have lower life expectancy than those who study for longer, ISTAT said, and this "excess mortality" remained roughly constant through February this year.

COVID-19 in Italy

Poverty
Representational Image Pixabay/Jerzy Gorecki

In March, however, the excess death ratio of the less educated in areas affected by the virus increased to 1.38 for men from 1.23 a year earlier and jumped to 1.36 from 1.08 for women. ISTAT statistician Linda Sabbadini said data on education levels was more readily available than other social indicators and was "an excellent proxy for income and class in Italy."

"Disadvantaged socio-economic conditions expose people to a greater risk of living in small or overcrowded housing, reducing the possibility of adopting social distancing measures," the ISTAT report said. Low-income groups were also more likely to be forced to work during the lockdown, in sectors such as agriculture, public transport and assistance for the elderly, ISTAT said, concluding that COVID-19 had "accentuated pre-existing inequalities."

In the 65-79 age group, the excess mortality for men with few qualifications increased in March to 1.58 from 1.28 a year earlier. For women, it jumped to 1.68 from 1.19. The excess mortality for low-qualified working-age women (35-64) leaped in March to 1.76 from 1.37 in March 2019.

Among men and women over the age of 80, however, there was no disproportionate impact of the virus on the less educated, ISTAT found, while in areas of the country little-affected by the virus normal mortality rates continued in March this year.

(With agency inputs)