Preprint Brief Report Version 1 Preserved in Portico This version is not peer-reviewed

COVID-19 in Italy: Is the Virus Running Through an Ancient Roman road?

Version 1 : Received: 28 April 2020 / Approved: 29 April 2020 / Online: 29 April 2020 (14:16:47 CEST)

A peer-reviewed article of this Preprint also exists.

Journal reference: Journal of Public Health From Theory to Practice 2020
DOI: 10.1007/s10389-020-01377-x


In late February 2020, Coronavirus disease-2019 (COVID-19) has aggressively spread around many bordering provinces of the three most productive regions of northern Italy (Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romagna). The first outbreak exploded in the municipality of Codogno (Lombardy). The province of Ferrara (Emilia Romagna) has been indicated as an anomaly due to the lower number of confirmed cases (1·065 cases per 1000 population). We argue that the spread of the virus throughout Emilia Romagna has a possible explanation in the geographical location of most of its provinces along the Via Emilia, an ancient Roman road that runs throughout the region, which we consider as a proxy for citizens’ movement, number of contacts, and social interactions. In order to test this hypothesis, we used a non-linear multiple regression analysis on aggregate province data to investigate the association between the rates of confirmed cases and the distance from the Via Emilia. The results indicate that the infection rate decreases proportionally to the distance from Via Emilia (-14% every 10 km, p<0·001). Further studies are needed, but Ferrara’s “peculiarity” might have a geographical/behavioral explanation, due to its isolation from the regional main connection routes, which are still revolving around a road built by the ancient Romans 2,000 years ago.


COVID-19; social distancing; infectious diseases; pandemic

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