With more countries introducing lockdown measures to control the spread of coronavirus, we asked three people living in Italy to share their experiences.
Benedetta Geddo, Piedmont
It’s been officially six days since the last time I left my house. I went to the gym and to our usual family dinner on Friday, completely unaware that it was going to be the last ‘normal’ day for a while. On Sunday, my region was declared a red zone. On Monday, that status was extended to the rest of Italy. Today is Thursday, and yesterday evening our Prime Minister announced an even harder crackdown – only grocery shops and pharmacies can remain open. It feels very much like the opening of a disaster movie, that mix of ‘it can’t be like this’ and ‘this is the only way it could be’ – I can’t really describe in any other way.
The situation is pretty much what you read in newspapers – going out is essentially banned, unless it’s for necessities like grocery shopping, health reasons, work. Knowing that even if I wanted to I couldn’t go out drives me up the walls sometimes, even though I’m very much a homebody usually. My biggest personal worry, though, remains the situation of my grandparents – they live in a different city and we can’t visit them, since we can’t move. I try not to linger on the thought that they’re high-risk people, more than 80 years old, or fear paralyses me. In the same way, I have to take long breaks in between the times I think about the social, economic and political future of our country.
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I am still one of the lucky ones, though, and by now I have set up a sort of routine. There’s work as usual, since I can do it remotely. I also take a walk around the garden after lunch, just to soak in some sun and breathe some fresh air. I do my gym classes at home using packs of pasta instead of weights. My friends and I talk on FaceTime a lot instead of meeting at a cafe – we’re actually planning a group yoga session via FaceTime for the weekend, which has the potential to be either glorious or a complete disaster.
It feels comforting, as routines usually do, but it’s still strange. It’s as if the fence surrounding our house has become the limit of our world – when we venture out we step into a no man’s land that feels dangerous, something out of one of those weird dreams where everything is familiar and alien at the same time.
Alexandra Bruzzese, Rome
Reaction to the arrival of coronavirus has hit Rome fast and furiously in a few short days. Despite the virus having breached our borders with cases reported in the North towards the end of February, it seemed to remain a fairly abstract problem. Friends shrugged off talk of closing down bars; the hashtag #RomaNonSiFerma, or #RomeWontStop took off in the hospitality sector; and up until this weekend restaurants were open for business as usual. In retrospect, I’m ashamed to admit that this past Saturday I went for brunch with friends, headed to an exhibit, and then grabbed drinks in the evening.
Since Sunday, restrictions have increased at a whiplash rate. All businesses except for pharmacies and supermarkets are closed and one member per family is allowed to go out to do the shopping; you must also carry an auto-certificazione, a certificate that states your reason for being outdoors to present to police if they stop you. There are very few people out and about, and most don surgical masks.
While I believe health is paramount and support the measures being taken to curb the virus, I can’t help but dwell on how this will cripple my adopted country’s already shaky economy; the disappearance of tourism, its lifeblood, was damaging enough.
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In the grand scheme of things, I am fine. I do my work from home and have food and WiFi and Netflix and an endless supply of books. Things could be much, much worse and I am happy to cooperate. My advice for others would be to just stay put. Travel is lovely and life-changing, but I don’t think it’s fair to put the most vulnerable at risk in the name of a low-cost flight to Barcelona.
I’m hoping that the quicker we all play by the rules, the quicker things will go back to normal. In the meantime, there are a wealth of Italian businesses who are relying on online sales to float them through the next few months; consider purchasing a Made-In-Italy product to support them. Bakery Oliveri1882 in Vicenza is selling their traditional Easter cakes, or colombe (coffee) online; historic tea room Babingtons sells their teas too along with countless other businesses.
John Fullman, Tuscany
I live in the small hamlet of Aboca above the town of Sansepolcro in eastern Tuscany for most of the year. Certainly until yesterday, the last day I went shopping, everything was very calm. There had been some panic buying earlier in the week but the supermarkets took that in their stride and merely refilled the shelves. Then on Monday, people stripped the shelves of any fresh food they could find.
All shops have notices requiring customers to maintain la distanza di sicureza, a distance of one metre, from each other and staff. Shop staff were wearing disposable gloves, some were wearing face masks. Some, but very few, customers were wearing face masks as well. Hand sanitiser is available by the door.
There was no palpable sense of panic. Because schools and colleges are closed, many people had children with them. The children were treating the time off as extra holiday.
Certainly around here there is no ‘lockdown’ as such, except for the instructions not to travel between towns or provinces. As of today, if I wish to travel between towns, I have to download a form from the internet and fill it in giving details about reasons for travel. There will be checkpoints between towns, I am told. I have not seen any yet.
Yesterday I drove the 7km to town and the road was quiet, which isn't unusal. There was no police presence en route and none in town. Traffic seemed normal. All the bars closed at six; certinaly not the norm but no one seemed upset about it. The most obvious change is the presence of security guards at the supermarket entrance to maintain safe numbers inside the store.
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The people I know are self-isolating in the sense that they are not going to work but doing what they can from home. There is no sense of panic but people do comment on the oddness of the situation and the fact that one person in Sansepolcro, a 56 year old man, has the virus. I have met no one who knows who he is. I feel sympathy for the workers in food shops and pharmacies – the only shops allowed open – who must in some way feel put at risk while the rest of us can avoid them if we have sufficient supplies.
I have not been in such a situation before, very few people have. I know there is some (minimal) risk but I feel no fear as such. Even after the panic buying everything seems normal. I am also very lucky; although I live in the Commune of Sansepolcro, I do not live in town; my nearest neighbour is over a mile away. It is sometimes said of Italy, supposedly as a joke, that it has more laws than any other European country but that its citizens obey very few of them. People here in Sansepolcro seem to be listening to the government and getting on with their lives as best they can without any argument.
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Lastly I would like to add that I am here on my own. In February I bought a puppy. It takes quite a time between buying a puppy and fulfilling all the requirements needed for travel, such as vaccinations for rabies and such. My birthday is in a few days time and I had been hoping that, as I could not get home, my family could join me here. Flights were booked but as the warnings ratcheted up it became obvious that travelling would, apart from anything else, be an antisocial thing to do. Added to that my sons thought that my wife being 84 put her right in the middle of the demographic most likely to be unable to fight the disease. And so I will be celebrating my birthday alone, at least a mile from the nearest human being. On a more or less mawkish note, I am sure my puppy, Billy, will make up for a lot.