'I Haven't Left My House in Three Weeks.' Life Under Italy's Coronavirus Lockdown

It's been a month since I saw my mother and three weeks since I've met my friends. In fact, it's three weeks since I've left the house at all.

I'm not the only one, of course. Italy, my famously vivacious country, is eerily silent. Our most iconic tourist attractions are deserted, schools, restaurants, pubs and cinemas are closed, sporting events have been suspended, and we are barred from gathering in public spaces.

Every evening, members of the Civil Protection announce the latest death toll during somber televised press conferences. Our prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, regularly addresses the nation in speeches live-streamed on social media.

Police units are patrolling the streets to ensure we only leave our homes for work and health-related reasons. We can go out for a stroll, to buy food and medicines, but we must fill and carry certificates stating our reasons. If caught out for no valid reasons or without a certificate, we will be fined and face up to three months in jail.

Everything but food stores and pharmacies is closed. Panic-buyers keep hoarding up food, water, hand sanitizer and toilet paper, despite authorities' calls not to do so. Face-masks are now impossible to find. And all the while journalists, celebrities, influencers and politicians are taking to social media to urge people to stay indoors.

This is what a nationwide quarantine feels like: we are at war, not with another country, but with a virus that has killed more than 1,000 people and infected 12,000 in three weeks. And the death toll from the wider crisis is actually higher. Seven people have been killed when authorities abruptly stopped all family visits and prisons have erupted into riots. And many more are dying in unrelated medical emergencies that could have received more attention if the vast majority of the country's medical resources weren't thrown at stemming the pandemic.

When the first case of COVID-19 in the small town of Codogno in Northern Italy, where I live, was discovered on 21st February, I travelled to my family's house for the weekend, confident that normality would be restored in a couple of days. It didn't: Codogno was put on lockdown.

Although I didn't think I had caught the virus, I opted for self-isolation for two weeks, just in case. Friends kept telling me what to do and routinely checked whether I had called the doctors to inform them about my whereabouts. I felt controlled, anxious and guilty: what if I had contracted the virus and infected people, including my family?

The self-imposed isolation felt nice at the beginning: I had more time to sleep and exercise, I could wear my pyjamas during conference calls at work, I could munch on food whenever I wanted, I was no longer worn out by my commute and my skin and hair started to look better, being less exposed to pollution.

Soon enough, these feelings gave way to anxiety, claustrophobia and depression. I could not bear the thought of being unable to leave my house. I wanted my freedom back. I could go out for a walk, the doctor had said, but I preferred not to. People from Codogno were shunned and labelled as possible virus spreaders—I was ashamed.

When the two weeks of isolation were over, I went out for a long walk with my boyfriend. We did not kiss, nor hug, but we spent a few hours together confident that the worst part was over.
It could not be further from the truth.

That same weekend, the whole region of Lombardy was put on lockdown, only for the restrictions to be extended the to the whole country a few days later.

Moving across Italy is now nearly impossible. I have not been able to see my mother in more than a month: after traveling to the country's South, to tend to my sick grandmother, she has been unable to board a flight to re-join her family. She is stuck down, and is not allowed to visit my grandmother at the local hospital either.

Different theories are trying to explain why the virus has spread so quickly in Italy. Authorities initially downplayed the seriousness of the situation, calling on people not to panic. The director of the Sacco hospital in Milan – which is currently bearing the brunt of the outbreak in northern Italy- publicly said that people were overreacting and COVID-19 was just slightly more problematic than the seasonal flu.

Leaders gave conflicting messages, people shrugged off instructions and continued to go out until fines were introduced. Careless youths kept posting on social media pictures and videos of themselves partying defiantly, because they had been told—or convinced themselves by selectively reading the statistics—the virus is killing only elderly people and those with a weak immune system.

But the virus not killing someone is not the same as not sending them to hospital. The number of people – young and old—requiring intensive care is increasing not by the day, but by the hour. The health care system is collapsing in Lombardy, doctors and nurses are exhausted, depleted medical equipment is forcing medical staff to treat people only if their life expectancy is high.

And when, in a particularly cruel twist, a draft decree announcing restrictions in Lombardy was leaked to the press, thousands of people boarded trains in a rush to be reunited with their families in the south. The virus surged, as did tensions between the different regions.

As complacency turns to panic, services are inundated with calls from distressed citizens who have a slight cough or run a high temperature, while most of those in actual need of truly urgent help is unable to ask for help.

We are now the only country to be completely red-zoned.

And we are fighting back. More than 1,000 people have overcome the virus and the Italian towns initially put on lockdown are showing signs of progress, an indication that strict measures are making gains. Limitation of our freedom of movements are scary, but they are the only beacon of hope we all share right now.

I expect to remain isolated for at least three weeks more. Developing a routine is helping me cope with the isolation. I exercise for 40 minutes in the morning, have breakfast, watch the news, work remotely. In the evening I cook, read a book and binge-watch on Netflix or watch a movie with my father and my sister.

Our old habits are changing and we are adapting to a new life, where we spend most of our time together, and at home. We try not to worry and distract ourselves, we laugh and invent new recipes, but the thought of the virus is always at the back of our minds, and the thought of being unable to see my mother tortures us, even if we try not to talk about it.

Meanwhile, as if in a rerun, the U.S. and Britain are imitating Italy. Not the Italy of today, with nationwide quarantine and solidarity, but the careless Italy of just a couple of weeks ago, cheerfully shrugging off an interventionist government and allowing an invisible enemy to take hold.

Unless they wake up to this new reality, we fully except to hear from the White House and from Downing Street what our prime minister, Conte, told us Italians last week: "There is no time left".

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