What it's like to be in Italy during the Coronavirus Lockdown
by Christa Boffa
Staying at home
#iostoacasa – I'm staying home. I've been staying home for over two weeks now, along with 60 million Italians and residents of Italy – put under government-ordered quarantine as of the 9th of March in a bid to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the country.
A new normal
Our life has turned upside down overnight. The build-up to the lockdown feels like a blur to many of us. The days have melted into each other. All we know is that we've gone from not shaking hands during meetings at work, not hugging and kissing our relatives and friends, to being unable to meet our family and friends, to not being able to go to work.
- All restaurants, bars, pubs, shops, museums, theatres, cinemas are shut down. Citizens are only allowed to go out for necessity, shopping for goods, medical reasons, work (although many of us have been advised to work from home if possible), and emergencies – and when we do, we must carry around a document self-certifying why we are out of the house.
- Violators risk time in jail or a fine. Spot checks are frequent, and the rules are enforced. Every now and then, police cars with speakers pass through my neighbourhood, a quaint town just minutes away from Florence, reminding us to stay at home and to only go out if necessary.
The few times we are out of the house feel, if possible, even worse than being stuck at home. Cities and towns alike feel like a bad imitation of what they were just a mere month ago. The streets and piazzas, once bustling with tourists and locals alike during all times of the day are just a faint memory – now replaced with embarrassingly silent queues outside of pharmacies and grocery shops – ensuring at least one metre of distance between one customer and another.
What was once a cacophony of honking and friendly (and not) shouting on the streets has been replaced with an eerie diligence of one-manned cars. Lonely duomos and bridges stand still, waiting for better days – for things to go back to normal.
The norm has changed
Normal feels like a distant memory. I've forgotten what it's like to struggle to find a place to sit down on my morning commute – to wake up to the smell of coffee brewing and cornetti fresh out of the oven. I've forgotten what it's like to be in a rush, to be worried about other issues which weren't my health, that of my loved ones, that of my host country and ultimately of my now inaccessible home country – Malta. I miss complaining about the crowds, the too many tourists. I miss every "questa città è troppo piena" now that we've seen what this city is like when it's too empty. It's heart-breaking.
My moka shrieks in the morning as I read and listen to the news before starting to work from home. This is the new normal. It's hard to focus and to work as if nothing has changed – but it is also work itself which gives you the illusion that things haven't changed – it's like being in a bubble, at least for those eight hours of work.
Filling my time
As soon as I finish working, I change into my exercise gear and start a workout. We've been asked not to go on walks or jogging outside, and so I get my daily dose of movement on my stationary bike or following workouts on Youtube. I fill my time with reading, cooking and watching serieses. I video call my family, reassuring them I am okay, I chat with my friends, I tell them what the updates are where I am and sometimes we have Skype aperitivos or dinners during which we actively try to discuss something other than the situation and this virus.
Life after the lockdown
The situation is likely to remain like this for weeks to come – with the possibility of the lockdown being extended with further tightening of existing restrictions constantly growing stronger. According to news reports, the lockdown is working, and we hope that the country will hit a peak in the coming days, so that we can start seeing a decline in infection rates. The future is uncertain, and worrying about the economic repercussions of all of this is only natural.
- "The uncertainty and fear are still very overwhelming, especially when I start thinking of the plans that we had in place for April and May, and now apparently, June too." Yanika, my Maltese friend in Rome tells me when asked how she's experiencing this lockdown.
- "My panic attacks are more frequent now, but I am learning to deal with them a little bit more efficiently. I counter that by trying to list three positive things every day, and I do make my students do it too, every time we have a lesson." Yanika is an English teacher, and is one of the many teachers who had to quickly adapt to teaching their students online.
- "I still teach, as regularly as the circumstances permit. Our school has been wonderful throughout the whole thing; they migrated all lessons and a lot of material online, and we have been doing our best to keep calm and carry on from home."
- The situation for my other Maltese friend based in Italy is quite different. "I live in Ragusa Sicily. The situation here isn't as bad as the north. Obviously the lockdown isn't pleasant but my partner and I keep in mind that it's for our safety - and knowing this is a way of controlling the frustration caused by being locked inside (…) The problem is we recently opened our own business one month ago, and obviously we are worried. What will happen? Will we lose clients? It seems that the government has put in place some initiatives so hopefully this virus wouldn't destroy our lives completely.
"We know things will not be the same again, or rather, not immediately after the threat has subdued. However knowing that we're all in this together is at least, in its own way, encouraging.
Unity in crisis
In all of this, there are positives too. Another trending phrase at the moment is #andràtuttobene – it's going to be okay. It is not just a trending hashtag on social media – it's sitting on my balcony and hearing my elderly neighbours reassuring one another that this too shall pass – just as any other time of trouble has.
Italy is a country that has withstood many tragedies – both natural and not and has managed, in some way, to make it out of them. Italy has always been home to many creatives, and this time is no exception – people are trying to spread beauty in the way they can, some through playing music on their balconies, others through videos reminding us of the beauty of this country on social media, some through humour, others through donations, through offering a helping hand to those on the front of this battle: nurses, doctors and all medical staff currently facing the unprecedented and giving the nation a miracle everyday as they keep going.
The figures and footage we're seeing on the news might be disheartening, and knowing so many people have lost their loved ones in all of this pandemic is heartbreaking. However the bravery and humanity being shown by all the medical staff is what ultimately gives me hope. Because if there is one thing that this tough time has brought out, is a collective sense of wanting to make it, to claw our way out of it - together.