Italy has entered its fourth week of locking up as a coronavirus pandemic which claimed more than 13,241 victims on April 3, 2020. For those of you who are not familiar with my country, Italy has a population of 60 million people or about twenty-two from India.
What does it mean to live in isolation for weeks with the possibility of being extended to the end of April?
Let me start from the beginning.
In mid-January, we began to hear about this mysterious, never-before-seen pneumonia that spread in Wuhan, China. I don’t think anyone understands what is happening, also because Chinese authorities are not fully transparent about the extent of the epidemic.
Most people have never heard of Wuhan, so for most of us, it is something somewhere in Asia, a place far east of Europe. Then the news: the entire Hubei province, with a population that matches Italy, is locked. This is the first wake-up call, but we postpone it first.
Even the strong images that came out of Wuhan, a city that was transformed from a busy commercial center into a ghost town in a matter of weeks is not enough to make us realize the extent of the problem. Police and soldiers patrol the city, stopping and arresting those who violate quarantine. The hospital was built in less than two weeks, and tens of thousands of people were hospitalized. But the feeling is yes, that’s bad, but it’s in China, thousands of kilometers away.
Then one day Covid-19 knocked on our door. At first, several cases were isolated, then more and more until the Lombardy hospital, the area around Milan, was filled with sick people. Then it was Veneto’s turn, then Piedmont, then Emilia-Romagna and, fortunately more or less, most of the other regions. Thousands of people are dying. The government took some shy steps, possibly underestimating the seriousness of the situation. Then, one night came the announcement: Italy was locked.
Breaking the rules
Italians have a genetic intolerance to the rules, so at first, people reacted as if the order to “stay at home” was just “advice.” Even though strict rules forbid people to leave their homes without good reason, the streets are still quite busy. Police were sent to patrol the streets and enforce strict rules. Thousands of people were fined, and finally, we got it. We have to stay home. However, from what I saw from the window, I felt there was still room for improvement. I leave home about every four days to buy groceries and other food ingredients, and I see that there are still too many people on the streets.
Lockdown has affected us all to different degrees. I was on the lucky side because I was a freelance journalist, so I did often work from home. I can make video calls, phone calls, send questions via email and then write my story. This is not ideal, but it works. The income is a little dry, but unless the lock lasts forever, I must be able to handle it. My wife used to take me around during the day, and the children didn’t seem to skip school very often. So far so good.
However, most people face significant interference with their lives. The school is closed, so the children are at home. Some schools have started online lessons; some others haven’t. Not all children have the tools needed for distance learning – reliable internet connections, computers, printers – at home. So for families with working parents, it becomes a major headache. Who looks after the children? Which of the parents live at home? Many places adopt a work-from-home policy, but some jobs require you to be out there. If you work in a supermarket (one of several business categories that are permitted to operate), or medical staff, you have no choice.
That disorder covers all aspects of our lives. People have to deal with financial (loss of income), psychological (family not accustomed to spending so much time together), physical (lack of exercise) and social (we are friends) the effects of this long and forced isolation. However, people react differently depending on their specific situation.
A few days ago, while waiting in line at the supermarket, I asked some people what they thought about locking and the epidemic in general. Apart from the general unhappiness about the restrictions on daily life and the lines at the supermarket, I was shocked by what the three people said because I thought their attitude summed up the general feeling of the state.
Carlo (he refuses to give his family name), a middle-aged man who works as a manager at a large bank, says it hurts, but he feels lucky. He works from home three days a week and goes to the other two offices. He said he would still be paid full salary at the end of the month, and that while the year-end bonus would be affected, overall he did not think the lockdown would change his life significantly. “La vita continua (life goes on),” he added philosophically.
The second is Irina (she also refuses to give her full name), a 34-year-old woman from Ukraine who has worked in Italy as a caregiver for around ten years. He said his income was more than half because people were afraid he would catch Covid19 and infect the elderly he was guarding. He said he would apply for special grants given by the government to entrepreneurs who had seen their incomes reduced because of the epidemic, but “if this lasts longer, I will not have a job at all,” he said.
The third is a lawyer. This 45-year-old woman (who did not want to mention her name) is very vocal in blaming China for everything. “China has been hiding information about coronavirus for a long time and giving the wrong information to the world,” he said. “They have to pay compensation to us, not just send some face masks and some doctors,” he added angrily. “That’s not enough to cause this mess!”
All praised the medical community’s efforts in combating the pandemic, and all had harsh words to the government for not acting quickly and firmly enough.
The economy will feel the most visible and direct effects. Small and medium businesses will bear the biggest burden because they have fewer means to deal with emergencies. Many companies risk being permanently closed if the lockdown lasts too long, and the government does not provide fast and adequate assistance. A friend of mine, who runs a pizza shop, had told me that when he returned to work, he had to fire at least one of the four people he used before Coronavirus invaded Italy. After the lock is finished, it won’t be like before. Some types of restrictions will be applied for some time, which affects the ability of this business to return to normal. Even multinational companies will experience difficulties. In a world that is always connected today, one’s final product is someone else’s component. Will Italian companies be able to regain their position in the full international supply chain? It’s hard to say, but it won’t be business as usual.
The truth is that the coronavirus pandemic has turned life upside down as we usually do. We enjoy a high level of freedom. Freedom to drink coffee or chai, freedom to walk around anytime, freedom to meet who we want when we want. When this freedom is taken away or restricted, we feel the world will soon end. And the first instinct is to fight to get it back. And that is the right reaction. But how do we get it back? By breaking the rules? By breaking the law? The simple answer is “NO!” The only way out is to break the transmission, and this can only be achieved through strict isolation and respect for rules. And for those who are skeptical, just look at the results. After three weeks, the rate of increase in new cases has decreased. One more effort by all of us and we will be able to move on with our lives soon.
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