A personal reaction of an Italian expat to the news of the Italian lockdown and a plea not to let it be in vain.
Last night, as I was scrolling twitter from my usual before-bed-state-of-the-world catch up, the news broke: the whole of Italy, a country of over 60 million people, my country, is in lockdown.
The spread of the coronavirus, something that felt so remote and so far away just a couple of weeks ago, got real.
What no one wanted to happen, what no one ever thought would happen in Italy or, by any account, in Europe, is now an everyday reality
As I read the news from my expat home in Ireland, a country in the ‘this may happen to us phase’, I am flooded with emotions.
Worry: will my parents back home in Italy be ok? Will my friends, their parents, their relatives be safe? Shock: the whole country? Is this even real?
And a sense of helplessness. As an expat, you never feel as helpless as the time when things go wrong at home and you are not there.
Worse, when you are not there and you don’t know when you will be able to be there next, because you have your parents there but you have your kids here, their life here, your heart torn between the family here and the family there.
Two halves of your heart, thousands of miles away from each other, never as far apart as now.
I found myself wishing I was a doctor, a nurse, someone with some sort of useful skill so that I could fly out and help anyone who needs help, join the ranks of health professionals in Italy who are working tirelessly, selflessly on the front line in the last few days.
I am not but maybe, just maybe, there is something I can do in my tiny way.
Maybe if I bear witness to what is happening, amplifying the words of the people who are in Italy now and are going through what for many is still a ‘won’t happen to us scenario’, I can help paint the real picture of the situation.
A picture that, if painted by a large enough number of people, if understood enough, may help others, individually and collectively face this time with strength and responsibility
Italy at the time of the coronavirus: the reality on the ground
Had I written this article yesterday afternoon, I would have painted a picture of Italy that would have been familiar to many.
Until last night, part of the country was on the front line fighting the virus outbreak but most of it was still going on as normal.
Fewer people on the streets, fewer tourists, but the news from Rome were reassuring.
‘It’s like ferragosto’ (the summertime when Italians go on holidays and cities empty). ‘There are fewer people on the streets but everything is open, outside of the center it’s life as usual’ I kept hearing.
Since this morning, however, the morning after the government decrees that declared Italy ‘protected zone’, things are different.
Museums, tourist attractions, cinemas, theaters are closed. Schools are closed, families are asked to homeschool their kids.
Movement of people is restricted: ‘stay home’ is the desperate cry from the authorities.
The worry becomes palpable between the people: it is not the virus alone, it is the fear for your jobs, for the lack of tourism, for the inevitable economic fallout that something like this will have on an already shaky economy.
‘Surreal’ is the word many are using to describe this time, a time suspended until an undefined date, a hope perched on the month of April, of May, the soonest possible time when we may hope to see an end to this
This sounds so dramatic, isn’t it an overreaction?
From around the world, I hear many saying oh come on, cop on, it is a cold, just tone down the dramatics already, it is not the end of the world.
And what I want to say to these reactions is: this may not well be the end of the world but it is the end of the world for many.
Take the halt of the tourism influx to Italy.
Many think it will just impact the big wealthy airline owners, the ones who spike prices of flights when school holiday start or who look at their bank accounts getting bigger from a faraway tropical island.
But make no mistake, they are not the ones suffering here.
The glamorous world of travel is not made by them alone, they are a minority in a world that is made of very real people: those who clean your hotel room, those who answer your questions when you plan your holiday, those who wash dishes in the restaurants we rave about on Instagram.
These are the people who suffer from this and if you are now thinking ‘oh s*, but this is everyone. This will impact everyone’ let me tell you: yes, it is everyone.
And this is why we worry. We don’t do it because we are dramatic. We do it because, for many, the fear that this may happen is not a fear for the future only.
This has already happened to them. To us.
And this is the economic fear, the one we look at not to turn our eyes onto the situations in hospitals in the North of Italy, a sight so sad and scary we resort to all sorts of denial techniques just not to have to look at it.
It is dangerous ‘just for the elderly’, ‘just for the weak’ – take a minute to take in what this really means. Just? Give a face to any of these words and it becomes clear that there. There is no ‘just’.
So shall we panic, then?
No. Panic serves no purpose. Panic causes knee jerk reactions, irrational behaviors and chaos.
Panic leads to selfish acts, lack of attention and poor judgment.
If there is one thing we can learn from Italy is that panic is our enemy and responsible, rational behaviors is our strength and weapon.
Between the extreme of the scaremongering and denial, there is a balance spot, the one of rational concern. That’s what Italy is telling us to look at: don’t panic, but don’t ignore this either.
It is not an order, it is a plea. Please, learn from this, don’t let this all be in vain
Traveling to Italy now and in the future
The last few weeks have seen countless travelers wondering if they should travel to Italy, if it was safe to do so, if they would get stranded and if they would be able to get their money back from their insurance in case of cancellations over coronavirus fear.
The time for that seems gone now, the decision has been made for many. The final say over whether it is the right time to go or not, vastly out of people’s hands.
No one can tell when this is going to be over and when it will be deemed safe again to go to Italy but whenever it is, the country will need all the help it can get.
And when it is safe to do so, go. The country will welcome you with its traditional welcome a million times over and, hopefully, we can look at this time as a time of fight, but a fight we won.
Photo credit: the cover photo is by photographer Luca Parrelli of Localgrapher, who had a shoot with us a few days before the outbreak made national news.