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.