By Tommaso Villa
What is it like to live in one of the hardest hit countries by COVID-19? The people in Italy who are actually involved in the Italian response to the virus outbreak might give insight to Americans also currently dealing with this pandemic.
Around late February, an Italian student of medicine of the University of Verona (in the Veneto region), Matilde Travaglini, received the communication that her university had decided to suspend all lessons because of the early few infections in the northern regions of the country.
“It had never happened before,” Travaglini said. “The communication was sudden and strange, but understandable after what was happening in China.”
Even if the news about the first patient who tested positive to the virus had come out a few hours before, the country immediately decided to forbid all major gatherings and started closing down most of the schools.
Students started taking online classes and sport events got canceled, but other than that no precise actions were taken as a prevention.
This was the situation until early March when the number of patients had grown considerably in the northern regions. Since the circumstances were getting out of hand, the country decided to order a public lockdown in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, where most cases were being individuated.
This started causing chaos among the people living and working there. Because of the new ordinances, many decided to flee to the southern regions. With thousands of people moving fast toward the not impacted zones, the virus began spreading in the center and south as well.
By March 9, the entire country was put under lockdown, which has continued until today. At the moment there is no precise date when the population will be allowed to begin to circulate in a normal matter.
Italians cannot get out of their homes unless it is for serious emergencies. All stores have closed except for pharmacies and supermarkets. They cannot drive their cars or simply go jogging to the park. Pets owners are only allowed to take their pets out for a couple of minutes.
Initially the police were not heavily involved, but now they are patrolling all streets. The price for being spotted without a valid reason to be outside is a heavy fine, and in certain cases a number of months in prison.
“At the beginning it wasn’t so bad,” said Travaglini. “You are at home after all. Distractions are not missing and it is certainly comfortable to just wear your pajamas for the entirety of the day.”
“Everything changed after the first couple of weeks, when it got clear the fact that they were not going to respect the release date of March 28. That’s when we began understanding that the situation was going to be tougher than we first imagined,” Travaglini said.
At the moment people do not really know when they are going to be able to leave their houses. Some think it is going to get better for the summer, others imagine it is going to protract until the end of the year, if not for more.
According to the Centers of Diseases Control and Prevention, as of March 30, there have been 10, 779 deaths reported in Italy due to COVID-19.
“People are incredibly scared now,” said Travaglini. “At first we thought it wasn’t going to hit us as hard as in China, but now we have come to the point where more people have died here than in any other country in the world.”
“At the beginning some people I know did not really care. They ignored the directions and still hung out with their friends. Now those same people are completely locked in their houses because it is clear that the situation cannot be controlled and that most importantly it’s a reality,” said Travaglini.
Travaglini said that she thinks the population starting realzing the situation was serious when people they knew started dying.
What other countries around the world have been asking is why Italy is seeing so many deaths caused by COVID-19. There are different reasons. Firstly, because of the fact that the boot-shaped country has a very old population and therefore is majorly exposed to the symptoms of the virus, but this does not explain why so many younger and healthy people are succumbing.
What doctors are fearing is that this can be explained with the fact that the Coronavirus is mutating and facilitating its attack toward groups of people that we thought were going to be safer.
Travaglini gives advice to the American population since the virus is spreading there too.
“Please do not take the situation as lightly as we did at first. If your government is telling you to stay at home then there is a reason for that. Do not contribute to the diffusion by going out and thinking that it is never going to happen to you because I saw people who thought to be invincible catch it and fight for survival with the help of medical machines. Start to take it seriously now, not when it’s too late.”
Line outside of a supermarket near Milan. People are ordered to stay at a safe distance from one-another.