The Coronavirus Chaos in Italy

As of yesterday all of Italy is on lockdown as a result of the coronavirus

In a matter of days, life here in Italy has transformed dramatically. We live in Treviso, one of the provinces that was quarantined before the more decisive lockdown. As this situation continues to unfold I can’t help but ask myself:

Could the infectious impact of this have been blunted?

Possibly, if more of Italy’s leaders and residents had taken this more seriously sooner. I remember two weeks when we were returning from a week in Paris. The coronavirus had emerged in Italy, and 11 towns (all but one were in Lombardy, the other was just outside of Padova in Veneto) were put in lockdown (red zones) and controls were put into place enforcing strictly limited movement in and out. I’d venture to say that most people here were thinking that this was contained. Instead, I wish we’d all been more aggressive about being on the front side and starting to make daily lifestyle changes “just to be sure.”

The void of information about this infectious new virus has probably a major culprit in people not being more proactive. We’ve all had weeks of news about the explosion of this contagion in China and it’s easy to think “Hey, it’s way over there,” especially when you’re viewing the situation through one’s smartphone, tablet, or tv. It’s far too easy to be complacent and convince yourself through wishful thinking that it just won’t land on your doorstep.

Coronavirus may have really made European landfall in Germany, not Italy.

I’d encourage you to read this Wikipedia link to read about how the virus “was confirmed to have spread to Germany on 27 January 2020.” That’s right, weeks before the first cases were reported in northern Italy. It’s postulated that the coronavirus made its way to us from “Webasto headquarters in Bavaria.”

If this is indeed true, this highly transmissible contagion had been circulating invisibly well before it popped up on the radar. This would mean that we (Italy) didn’t understand the real scope of the coronavirus’s presence in Italy. Maybe that’s why we’re seeing the rapid rise of the virus all over Italy and now why people are starting to jump to attention.

Panic ensues…

Oh my, here’s what we’ve seen happening here in Italy in the last several days:

A dose of every-man-for-himself. As in every crisis, there are people who rise to the occasion and behave well. There are plenty of such people here in Italy. But, we’ve seen the converse, too. This was particularly evident when, just hours before the lockdown of seventeen northern provinces was to be announced, people rushed to the train stations in Milan to escape Lombardy. Read the article, “Leaked coronavirus plan to quarantine 16m sparks chaos in Italy,” in The Guardian. In this mass exit, how many infected people spread the virus more widely? How many people, thinking only of themselves, transported a potentially fatal disease to people they love?

Weak enforcement. We woke up here in Treviso the morning after the decree to read that trains were still operating and airports were still open in the affected areas (the hubs of Milan and Venice). In Lombardy many people were piling into cars and campers, heading out of the area, and flooding into regions like Liguria. An ordinance was issued on March 8 in Liguria forbidding the owners of tourist accommodation facilities and furnished apartments for tourist use to accept people who had just come from one of the red areas.

I ask myself why there wasn’t a stronger hand in implementing the lockdown measure.

Slow adoption of advice and lifestyle changes. Granted, these temporary lifestyle changes mess with the fundamentals of Italian life. Telling Italians they can’t hug and kiss upon greeting and departing is like telling them not to breathe. And, keeping a meter of personal space when out-and-about in public areas isn’t easy. Just two days ago I was looking out our fourth-floor window to a quaint bar just across the street. At least a dozen people were congregated, drinks in hand, just out front.

On the other side of the street, at our local Conad grocery store, signs were up and PA were being made to remind people to keep their distance. I saw a couple of people being chastised for getting too close to other customers, especially at the checkout.

Hospital beds are in increasingly short supply. This means that in some hospitals people are being parked in corridors. The medical teams are overworked and understaffed. Speculation is rife that soon medical personal will be forced to decide who to treat based on who has the best chance of survival. You’ve probably seen that Italy’s fatality rate from coronavirus is higher than in other countries. Many attribute this to the high percentage of elderly people here. We were watching a show of medical experts, journalists, and government leaders the other night. One of the questions posed was who should be treated if resources were limited and you had a younger, healthier person with the virus and an older person with the virus and other already serious health concerns. Let’s hope it doesn’t come down to that kind of choice: but it’s clearly at the forefront of many minds, especially as we see the potential for medical services to become strained beyond their capacity.

People are becoming separated. This is the saddest thing of all. We heard a story today of a couple who had been married for sixty-five years. They were both ill with the coronavirus and ended up being separated for treatment. They died apart. And, there are stories emerging of people losing track of loved ones after being taken to a hospital. Things are happening so fast that some patients’ whereabouts are starting to slip between the cracks.

Learn from Italy and take this crisis seriously.

If there’s one overarching piece of advice I’d give to those of you on the other side of the Atlantic, it would be this. Don’t think this won’t explode on American soil. We’d all like to think that the powers that be will somehow wrestle this to the ground in short order. But I believe it’s essential that people get on board with preparedness and lifestyle changes sooner than later. Don’t wait until the wave is about to engulf you.

I’m grateful for the outpouring of concern and support of so many friends and loved ones. We’re doing fine, staying at home mostly and when we’re out we’re being very careful to follow the one-meter social distancing and other guidelines. But, life IS dramatically different here. Imagine being in an entire country that is in full-lockdown mode. Imagine the fear of what this will do to an already fragile economy. Every night when I go to bed and every morning when I wake up I remind myself that we’re in unchartered territory and there is no end in sight.

If you haven’t read it you might appreciate my last post “When the Unexpected Arrives.”

An update (Friday, March 13)

Police enforcement of the lockdown is visible.

Here in Treviso (and hopefully all over Italy) the police are patrolling the streets to ensure people are only moving around for trips to the grocery, the pharmacy, or to certain workplaces. We’re obliged to have an official form with us at all times that we self-certify and sign our reasons for being out. People caught trying to dodge the restrictions can be fined heavily and even invite jail time (definitely not something you’d want to risk right now with riots breaking out in jails and prisons).

Social distancing is finally being followed.

This has been especially hard in this culture. But, with the most recent explosion of cases and deaths, people seem to be getting with the program. At our supermarket, I see few people, and when I’m there, people really do dodge one another. Management and works repeatedly do PAs to remind people and they’re quick to chastise those who don’t follow the guidelines. Cashiers wear face masks.

And, because it’s impossible to go to the grocery without touching things like freezer doors and exchange money. I frequently whip out the hand sanitizer (homemade since I can’t find the regular stuff) after such interactions.

The steady rise in new cases and deaths is pushing normally abundant medical resources to the limit.

If you have access to NYT articles, I highly encourage you to read this sobering account of just how taxed our health services are becoming: “Italy’s Health Care System Groans Under Coronavirus—a Warning to the World.”

What this potentially could mean: people who have an acute onset of coronavirus may not have access to necessary medical equipment or even hospital beds. Already they’re fast-tracking the repurposing other building to try and accommodate the surge in cases.

We wait, and we hope.

Only have a few days passed since serious lockdown laws were put into place. In China, their quick mobilization of resources and rigid restrictions (which seemed draconian to the world) yielded a decline in the new cases. But it didn’t happen immediately. If there is a glimmer of good news here, the first real red zone, the small town of Codogno, southwest of Milan, had no new cases yesterday. Codogno was heavily restricted at least two weeks ago, with police enforcement preventing people from leaving or entering the zone. I pray we see the same inverse trend or at least a leveling out of the cases so the medical triage can catch up.




By |2020-03-13T13:40:50+01:00March 10th, 2020|Healthcare in Italy, News in Italy|32 Comments

About the Author:

I’m an American expat living in Italy!


  1. Kathleen McGrath Boggs March 14, 2020 at 12:50 am - Reply

    JED! Thank you for sharing ableit so sobering. It is starting to feel a bit more real – or maybe surreal – here in CA. Schools are closing, workplaces are closing or trying to adjust to WFH. Certainly not normal – and wonder if this is new normal!? Miss you, friend. Stay well.

    • Jed March 14, 2020 at 5:03 pm - Reply

      Ciao, Kathleen! Thanks for writing. Today I was asking myself what life might look like three months down the road and how this has the potential to change life as we know it. I wonder if we will alter our habits and if we will all work together in readiness for the next natural “event” of this magnitude? I just hope we don’t retreat to well-worn grooves just because they’re familiar. I miss you too and I hope you and yours are doing well and staying safe.xoxox Jed

  2. Cyndi March 12, 2020 at 4:41 am - Reply

    I hear what you’re saying loud and clear. Thank you so much. Take good care of yourselves.

    • Jed March 12, 2020 at 3:23 pm - Reply

      Thanks, Cyndi, for writing. My blog posts are helping to keep me sane, to feel as though I’m somehow helping to get an important message out!

  3. Kathryn Smith March 12, 2020 at 2:55 am - Reply

    I have been so concerned about you and Simone. Thank you for this frank post that reminds us how close humanity really is. Prayers that all will settle down soon.

    • Jed March 12, 2020 at 3:26 pm - Reply

      Just after I did today’s post we were told by a friend who had decided to take her daughter out for a brief bike ride that police are stopping people and sending them back home unless they are going to the grocery, the pharmacy, or to work (under certain circumstances). I’m afraid this is going to get uglier before it gets better and will be with us longer than we think. But, as you say, prayers that somehow things will settle down. I’d just like a sliver of solid good news.

  4. Susan Leavitt March 11, 2020 at 5:47 pm - Reply

    Jed – thank you for sharing what’s going on there. Just heart breaking. Stay safe. The wonderful warm, compassionate people of Italy are in our hearts. With some people not believing the virus was real, calling it a hoax and saying it was perpetrated by the Democrats, sadly much has not been done here to contain it. Seems the tide is finally turning as testing is finally being done and more cases diagnosed. Some schools are closing, big events cancelled and even a town in NY becoming a containment area. But will it be too little too late…closing the barn door after the horse is out? When the leader of our country denies the severity and continues with his fundraising rallies to get himself elected I feel this will get a lot worse for the coming months before it gets any better. Deaf ears, disinformation and shutting out the press all adds to the inevitable. What a world.

    • Jed March 12, 2020 at 3:28 pm - Reply

      Hi Susan, yes, I’m afraid leaders in multiple countries are trying to close the barn door well after the horse has bolted. I hope and pray that leadership will try unfettered honesty instead of trying not to upset people. Yes, what a world. Thanks for writing.

  5. Debra Polson March 11, 2020 at 4:46 pm - Reply

    Please…please Jed the two of you stay safe!
    I was suppose to move to Sulmona in April but now that’s not happening. Maybe this summer or might wait to the Fall and everything settles down.
    Thank you for sharing what’s going on in your part of the world. The US is just a mess. Doing social distancing, no crowds, no flying to my grandson’s 1st birthday. Everyone are doing their part.
    Keep in touch and keep safe!

    • Jed March 12, 2020 at 3:29 pm - Reply

      We’re in full lockdown. Police are sending people home who are even out for a brief walk. This is surreal. Keep me posted on your move, and please stay safe! xoxox

  6. Richard Devost March 11, 2020 at 1:37 pm - Reply

    Jed I cannot thank you enough for sharing. I am in my final stages of moving (inspired by you) to my almost fully restored home in Sarnano MC Italy. I am from Canada and like most never though or should I say hoped that it would become this critical in Italy. Air Canada has canceled all flights to and from Italy effective immediately and are predicting to be flying in and out of Rome beginning May 1, 2020. Unfortunately or fortunately depending on how you view this my flight leaving March 24,2020 was canceled. Initially I was upset but quickly thought of all those in Italy essentially trapped dealing with something that potentially could have been not totally avoided but at a minimum better managed (earlier).

    I can assure you that we in Canada are watching how this is unfolding in Italy and even though our total cases are just shy of 100 we are taking an aggressive stance to minimize any impact going forward.

    I want to wish you and those close to you all the very best during this very difficult time. I know in time that all will work out for Italy but not without loss or a large “scar” on the arm of Italy. We can only hope that this “scar” not only represents all those hurt by this event but a reminder to those (decision makers) who will make certain that something like this will not happing again.



    • Jed March 11, 2020 at 3:48 pm - Reply

      Hi Richard. Your thoughts are so appreciated. Thanks for sharing your perspective. As you point, I hope people will take this tragic period and become wiser and swifter in developing effective responses. I, too, hope Italy isn’t scarred too badly by this. It has indeed been a wake-up call to many people resistant to the inconveniences of changing daily habits and customs. This Sky News article, in my opinion, captures the Italian struggle to get on board:

      My best, Jed

  7. Tony March 11, 2020 at 11:11 am - Reply

    Thank you for sharing the realities of life under lock-down. The first two cases were confirmed in Michigan today. I have no doubt it’s been circulating for weeks or more. I’m certain more measures will be taken very soon. I’m sad for all the harm it is causing on many levels and the impact it will have on families. Glad you are still doing well. Please keep us all updated along the way.

  8. Robin March 11, 2020 at 8:19 am - Reply

    So well said, Jed.
    We also are on self-imposed lockdown. We are aware, other residents in Umbria, are not taking this so seriously. Our grocery store limited 10 shoppers at a time. Lines were long, people are stocking up.
    I am glad to hear you are doing well. My heart goes out to all worldwide, who are affected by this horrible virus.
    Lots of love to both of you.

  9. Kathy Guenther March 10, 2020 at 11:14 pm - Reply

    Thanks, Jed, for your assessment and advice. We older people are concerned and are saddened to hear of any deaths. It must be so horrible for these families to endure the separation from loved ones.
    Stay strong and we will do the same.

  10. Malcolm March 10, 2020 at 7:38 pm - Reply

    I have to admit I like the idea of getting away in a travel trailer too. But I would get away from people at some remote beautiful Italian countryside.

    • Jed March 11, 2020 at 3:58 pm - Reply

      Unfortunately, such an escape is next to impossible in a protective bubble. Simple interactions are leading to transmission. Many Italians have been reticent to accept that fact which is now borne out in many stories of new infections. On the positive front, the village of Codogno (southwest of Milan), which was one of the 11 towns put under strict quarantine with police enforcement two weeks ago, finally has no new cases.
      You might find this article in Sky News interesting:

  11. Tish Zauner March 10, 2020 at 7:07 pm - Reply

    You are right on target with a very well written article. I fear most for our economy that has been fractured for years. Right now you could feel like you are in a police state. It is one thing to stay home because you want to and very different because you are told to. I for one appreciate everything being done to minimize the impact and I pray we will get through this and be a stronger community

  12. Nina Andaloro March 10, 2020 at 7:06 pm - Reply

    Jed, thank you for sharing your personal experience on this critical issue. It has been difficult finding the more personal effects this is having on the countries most affected. I think Americans need to hear these stories instead of thinking just of numbers – we are all being conditioned to think that way and your note about the elderly couple who died apart brings me to tears. Life here in Boulder, CO is totally normal but everyone is talking about the virus. I think local government and school districts are wrestling with the decision on when to close schools and events. We have not ‘reported’ cases in our county but I am not naive to think that it isn’t actually here. But at the same time, the fear/panic this virus is creating is showing up everywhere. I have canceled my mom’s trip here to visit us and see a very special performance my child is participating in this week, but felt it was the best decision considering her age and that her area has known cases. Again, thank you for sharing and please continue to do so!

    • Jed March 11, 2020 at 4:07 pm - Reply

      Thanks for writing, Nina. This all certainly has a different tone when you can see, firsthand, the effects of such a crisis. Cases here in Treviso are approaching 200. For a small city of 80k people, that really wakes me up. A week ago, people were more dismissive of this being a “bad flu” rather than it being a potential grim reaper for less healthy and robust individuals. That’s changed and I suspect tougher movement restrictions will soon be implemented. You might find this Sky News articles interesting:

  13. Kathy Carrier March 10, 2020 at 6:56 pm - Reply

    Thinking of you,Jed! I really appreciated hearing how things are going from your perspective.. you’ve been on my mind a lot lately as the news reports continue to share the unsettling news of this virus. Take care of yourselves.. hopefully things will improve soon. 😘

    • Jed March 11, 2020 at 4:10 pm - Reply

      Thank you, Kathy. It gives me great comfort to know so many people like you are thinking about me. The change that is taking place on a daily basis here keeps me on the edge of my seat. We venture out once a day, if even that, for fresh air and to get groceries. Beyond that, we’re glued to the house. Hope you are well. xoxox Jed

  14. Maryann March 10, 2020 at 6:55 pm - Reply

    Wow! Such a sad story about the couple separated and then died. But, why, why are the trains and planes still running?! I don’t get it.
    Meanwhile, we’re doing exactly nothing in the US. Not even talking about potential policies at work. Ugh.

    • Jed March 11, 2020 at 4:11 pm - Reply

      Learn from our mistakes! I want to shout that through a metaphorical online megaphone! Stay safe, my dear friend!

  15. Stephanie March 10, 2020 at 6:42 pm - Reply

    I’m praying for you all. I am so sorry to read this. Gut wrenching that the Coronavirus has become so tragic. Please take care of yourselves. If there is anything I can do, please let me know. Love and hugs always!

    • Jed March 11, 2020 at 4:13 pm - Reply

      “Gut-wrenching” nails it, Stephanie. The tolls this is taking on Italy and the Italian way of life is huge. I pray other countries will learn from what has happened here and be quicker to act! Love you! Jed

  16. Angela March 10, 2020 at 6:32 pm - Reply

    Thanks for staying in touch. I’ve been thinking of you both. Sadly, I think it’s too late here. Cats out of the bag…but we’re in response mode. I’ve adapted my behavior regardless. Most people act oblivious even if they are thinking otherwise while others are hoarding. There is some panic here in AZ but cases remain low if we are hearing the truth. Washington state is the hardest hit so far in the U.S. with California close behind. We have a severe shortage of testing kits. Washington and California local governments seem to be the best source of accurate information right now. I’m not sure what we might do to help you and your’s in Italy but if you think of anything, please ask. Stay well.

    • Jed March 11, 2020 at 4:21 pm - Reply

      Thanks for writing, Angela. Yes, the cat’s out of the bag, I’m afraid. Panic isn’t helpful but decisive and quick action can be. Over two weeks ago 11 villages were put on strict lockdown (with police enforcement). One of those towns, Codogno, for the first time since the lockdown has no new cases. It’s encouraging that serious, restriction action can work. I’ll keep you posted as things develop. Jed

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