Here’s how we’re doing in Italy

Here’s how we’re doing in Italy

[originally published on March 16 2020]

Hey there, I’ve seen concern and support from all over on social media for Italy. I’m thankful for that and we appreciate it. I just wanted to share my perspective on the situation in Italy. I’m not a doctor nor an epidemiologist of sorts, my perspective is that of a simple young man, student, on lockdown at home like every other italian, don’t expect medical insights.

Reading time: 7 minutes, the time to properly cook a boiled egg

So, how’s the situation in Italy on lockdown? Well, it sucks, but it’s fine, as fine can be in such a time. And yes, we can go out to shop for groceries, and no, people are not dying in front of hospitals.

Let me share a brief timeline of the lockdown:

On February 22 [~200 infected] Codogno, a town in northern italy, and other towns in a designated “red zone” are closed off because the coronavirus was spreading in the area. Stores and all shops are closed and nobody can leave the area, police and military come to lockdown the access points. People think this is no big deal, that the infection is “contained” and far away from them.

On February 23 in Lombardy [~150 infected in the region at the time] schools and universities are closed, every gathering or event is suspended. Museums, movie theaters and libraries are closed. Bars, pubs etc are to be closed at 6pm. People (including me) still think there’s not a lot to be worried about if you don’t live in that part of the country. Kids hope the schools will be closed in their city as well.

On March 5 [~3000 total infected] schools and universities are closed, meaning that nobody goes to school or university but ideally every professor prepares for online teaching (through lots of different platforms). I’ll add that not many teachers were prepared to do this and are not familiar enough with online tools. So far, the school lockdown is supposed to last until April 3.

COVID-19 Infections in Italy as of March 16. Orange infected, Green Recovered, White dead
COVID-19 Infections in Italy as of March 16. Orange infected, Green Recovered, White dead

On March 7 [~5000 infected] (actually, during the night between the 7th and the 8th) the government isolates Lombardy, an italian region in the north, and 14 other provinces. These are so far the areas with the highest number of infected people. (As of March 16 this region accounts for around 65% of the infected across all Italy). Sidenote: a draft of the government proposal to lockdown these areas is leaked to the press, so lots of people try to flee by taking the last trains to escape from the so called “red zone”. Governors from the southern regions disapprove of this mass departure: it may help spreading the infection in the country and the southern regions are less prepared in terms of hospitals, ICUs and so on. Many regions enforce a self quarantine to all who come back from the northern regions, with a self certification to compile.

On March 9 [~7900 infected] the lockdown is extended to all Italy. In particular:

  • everyone who can work from home shall do so. Every business proceeds to set up so the called “smart working” for their employees to let them work from home. This has started earlier depending on the company
  • to go around you need to have a compelling reason, for example going to your home, going to work (for those who can’t do it from home)
  • Every gathering, sports competition or event, gyms and alike, movie theaters, pubs, museums are closed
  • Bars and restaurants are open until 6pm
  • Malls, except for grocery stores and pharmacies are to be closed during the weekend
  • no religious functions: no masses, no funerals, no Friday prayer for Muslims. Churches remain open as long you maintain distance. Since the beginning of March the Catholic Mass has a slight adaptation to limit contact between the people
  • no driving license exams

Again, this is to be enforced until April 3

On March 11, [~10000 infected] the president of the Lombardy region asks to the government to close every “non essential” business to further limit spread of the pandemic.

  • Grocery stores and supermarkets
  • Pharmacies
  • Tobacconists
  • Newspaper stands

Open markets are closed, and so are bars and restaurants, but they are allowed to deliver food. Industries and Factories remain open as long as they can maintain a secure work environment (there has been debate over this as you can imagine because it’s not easy to give protective gear to everyone since it’s in short supply, so factory workers rightfully protested when they couldn’t have a safe environment to work in). The postal service and banks also remain active. This is until March 25 unless renewed.

So, as of today, March 16, what’s allowed in Italy? How are things? I’ve seen questions around the internet, I’ll try to do a little FAQ of sorts:

  • we can go to the grocery store to get food. Stockpiling is highly frowned upon, because stores are and will get refilled regularly, and moreover, if you stock up and empty out a store who might get damaged are people who can’t afford to stock up and might remain without essential items.
  • Only a few people at a time are allowed inside a store, to avoid too much contact. Employees of stores wear gloves, face masks and are supposed to regularly disinfect surfaces. Lines form outside the stores, but everyone stays 1-2m apart from others. Sometimes you find lines in a chessboard-like pattern to ensure distancing from yourself.
  • People are not dying outside hospitals. The hospitals in northern regions are swamped, regions and the government are trying to find new places to put ICUs. On March 15 the chief of welfare in Lombardy Giulio Gallera declared there is a real shortage of ICUs, with around 20 spots left, but everyday new ICUs and non-intensive care beds are being added, so don’t quote me on the number; for example here the governor Attilio Fontana talks about 300 beds added over the past two weeks. In Rome a new hospital dedicated to COVID-19 patients has been opened, so far with 21 ICUs. Doctors from Venezuela, Cuba and China are being recruited (and of course from within the country as well).
  • before these serious measures were taken in place we didn’t expect this, we didn’t think it was that serious, it was seen as a distant epidemic from china for which a few people were going to be sick and nothing more
  • Even today, some people, especially young, think the lockdown is too much and they gather closely. Around 7000 people have been charged by the police for not respecting safety measures. They don’t realize that
    • even young people can get sick
    • even if you don’t get sick, you could bring the infection home, maybe to you parents or to your grandparents. Think about that, if you are not careful, your family members can die.
  • For example, some towns in southern Italy are being sealed on March 16, 4 of those because of a religious ritual in which people drank from the same chalice. All churches stopped religious functions since March 8 in all Italy, even though churches remain open.
  • It is still early to see the effect of these safety measures. Today on March 16 the governor of Lombardy declared the growth of infections in the region is not exponential anymore, but we have to wait some more to properly see how things are working.
  • As Italians do, we try to cheer each other up: many have hanged a sign from their balcony saying “Everything will be alright” with a rainbow, and everyday at 18 lots of people sing together from their windows. Honestly, it is bringing us together in a way.

[update March 17:] Seeing @viticci’s twitter thread with advice on quarantine I decided to share my own, check out his tweets as well:

  • don’t panic. The situation is serious, but if we behave correctly we will get through this
  • stay at home; I’ve already said this, but I feel the need to repeat myself because it may seem a joke to some, but please stay at home. Go for a walk (if you are allowed to) only if you make sure to keep your distance from others around 2m / 6ft.
  • Beware of fake news spreading on social media or messaging apps. Lots of stuff going around about coronavirus-fighting toothpaste, be careful of where you get your news (interesting read from Harvard).
  • Be creative! I’m convinced creativity often stems from limitations. I’ve had great fun in writing and making videos with friends even if we’re apart. Express yourself; fortunately, we can still interact over the internet, we’re lucky for that.
  • clean up your house, no better time than this.
  • if you work from home try to dedicate a place in your house just for that if you can, it’ll help you concentrate when you need to and separate yourself from work when you are finished; this is common productivity advice.
  • Video chatting! Zoom, Jitsi Meet, Discord, Skype, whichever you want, talk to your friends so you can cheer yourselves up. I have a chat everyday with a group of friends, and the ritual of it, being at the same time everyday, helps giving some structure to my days, and it’s important not to isolate yourself and not let any friend or loved one isolated and alone.
  • Learn something! It’s a great time to learn a new skill, whether for work or pleasure. I’m learning to play the guitar, but for every skill there’s tons of stuff on YouTube or on platforms like Skillshare, Udemy and many others. It’s easy to just fill yourself up with Netflix series and movies, and there’s nothing wrong with relaxing, but this is a good chance to put part of your time to good use.

Feel free to comment and ask away questions, I’ll try to answer, keep in mind I’m no authority and not a doctor. I’ll leave you with a couple of useful links since the previous ones unfortunately were in Italian:

Please stay safe and try to avoid contact, distance yourself from others, stay at home and wash your hands, I’m confident we’ll get through this.