Life in Italy during the coronavirus is a pretty surreal thing . A week ago, on the 21st of February 2020, the coronavirus epidemic hit Italy. Today, finally, it seems the situation is under control in the Belpaese, although contagion has yet to stop.
In the rest of Europe, too, cases of coronavirus increase. In the US 60 (as of this morning) have been reported.
Every Italian can tell you this week has passed in a surreal atmosphere where the atavistic fear of contagion and death mingled with a curiously heart-warming sense of community, especially in the most hit areas of the country, the so called zone rosse.
I am 41 and I have no memory of such a sense of dread and fear hitting my country . Perhaps, the only comparison coming to mind is with the First Gulf War, in 1991: then, too, people terrified by the idea of being attacked runsacked supermarkets and pharmacies.
But life in Italy during the coronavirus is something different, because the enemy is within our borders this time, and we only really feel safe in our homes.
So, how is life in Italy during the coronavirus?
Well, I will tell you here.
Life in Italy during the coronavirus: the Red Zones
A Red Zone is an area considered a coronavirus-diffusion cluster. In Italy we have two, one in Lombardia, in the Lodi province, and one in the Padova province, in Veneto.
The Lombardia Red Zone developed between the provinces of Lodi, Cremona, Monza, Pavia and Mantova, while in Veneto it includes the village of Vo’Euganeo and its surrounding territories. What does it mean to be in a Red Zone during the coronavirus epidemics? It means no one living in the area can leave it until authorities says so. You are free to enter it, but once there, there’s no coming back: you’re stuck until further notice.
Of course, this is a necessary precautionary measure, close to what has been implemented in Wuhan, China, where it all began. There are 43 check points around the two Red Zones, 35 in Lombardia and 8 in Veneto. Each of them is supervised by a minimum of 10 soldiers and policemen. Initially, the army wasn’t involved, but the Government decided it was necessary, after people from within the Red Zones kept on trying to break out of them: civic duty and responsibility evidently lack in the mind of some.
The areas are supplied with all it’s needed — medications and food especially — thanks to the work of the army and the Protezione Civile. Supermarkets, delis and pharmacies are all open. Everything else is not, including churches which, as a place of aggregation, are considered at high risk of coronavirus diffusion.
People in the Red Zones, interviewed by journalists (themselves isolated there), say the situation is surreal and fears for the economy are huge, as most activities have been closed all week. We all know the coronavirus will probably leave bigger scars in the country’s economy than anywhere else — excluded the families of those who perished, of course — so the preoccupation is more than justified.
At the same time, life in Italy during the coronavirus in the most affected areas has, in fact, also brought something beautiful. A young teacher from Codogno interviewed on TV just a couple of days ago said, wearing his mask, that he couldn’t remember his town being that way. Children were playing in the streets, people were talking more, old friendships got rekindled.
A new sense of community has been rediscovered, in Codogno as everywhere else in the Red Zones in Lombardia and Veneto, demonstration of how people, in the hardest of times, finds support and consolation in each other. Delightful is the idea developed by a group of youngster in Codogno who have created a radio station, Radio Zona Rossa, that airs in the whole area and gives updates and news. It transmits from the local parish’s “oratorio.”
Outside the Red Zones
About life in Italy during the coronavirus everywhere else in the country, I can tell you a lot because I’m in Italy, in the region of Liguria, where currently there are 19 people with Covid-19. I live in Imperia, less than one hour from the French border, 15 minutes on the motorway from Alassio, the heart of the Ligurian coronavirus infection. In this beautiful seaside town, a group of people from the Lombardia Red Zone came vacationing and that’s how the contagion began.
Life goes on very much as usual. You see people in the streets and every store and supermarket is open. Schools are not, though, at least until Monday: decisions about whether prolong the ordinance will be taken during the weekend by the authorities.
In here, just like in the rest of Italy, no masses were said this week: churches are open for those who wish to pray, but all celebrations have been cancelled, including those, very important for the Christian community, of Ash Wednesday.
In spite of an initial panic-induced rush to sack supermarkets (on Monday the 24th, I had to go to three of them to find a bottle of rubbing alcohol!), supplies are high and shelves are full. The only thing notoriously missing from every store and pharmacy is Italy’s beloved Amuchina, in all its varieties. Amuchina is nothing more than the brand name for a series of disinfectant preparations that go from alcohol-based hand sanitizers, to bleach based home cleaners.
Life in Italy during the coronavirus: it is all a bit surreal
Yes, the country has been living under a spell of unsettling surreality for the past 7 days. Fear and panic go hand in hand with an equally frightening disregard of norms and regulations to avoid contagion by some.
In Lombardia, people tried to escape the Red Zone in at least two occasions (they were stopped and charged) and a Youtuber was caught while he was trying to enter it to film a video.
A friend who lives and works in Nice, France, showed me the screenshot of a post she found on a Facebook group for Italians living in the Cote d’Azur. A man, who apparently has a home in Nice, was asking the group if there were issues at the border because he and his family were thinking to travel there over the weekend. He is from Milan. After receiving a large amount of negative comments asking him to remain home he, offended, declared the only contagious thing was people’s stupidity. In a few months, they’ll find a vaccine against Covid-19. Pity that a vaccine against ignorance and self-entitlement will never be discovered!