In attempt to curb the rising number of cases of COVID-19, all of Italy has been in lockdown since March 8th. This means that travel is restricted to those going to collect supplies from supermarkets, or pharmacies, and those travelling to work, or to help people in need. Those who break lockdown rules face a 3-month prison sentence, or a fine of up to 206 euros. The government has additionally pledged to spend 25bn euros on tackling the coronavirus, an attempt to ease the major economic blows currently faced by the Euro-zone’s third largest economy. So far, 24,747 people have been diagnosed with the virus as of 15th March. In the last 5 hours, a 25 per cent increase in mortalities has also been announced.
With a total of 55 deaths so far, the UK has been described as ‘a few weeks’ behind Italy. Despite this, increasing numbers of people are choosing self-isolation, and reformed schedules in the hopes of avoiding contamination.
So what is it like to live in lockdown?
My uncle Stephen has lived in Italy since 1978. Whilst his routines have changed and developed over the years, it is in the last few weeks that Stephen has experienced the greatest lifestyle shift. In an attempt to picture what could soon be my reality, I asked him to keep a log of his routine, as ‘a day in the life in lockdown’. His account not only drew a picture of an unfamiliar schedule, but also revealed how quickly we learn to adapt in testing circumstances.
It is worth noting that Stephen lives alone, and is now retired. His schedule (though busy), is less stressful than that faced by many families across the world. Juggling school work, childcare, and financial uncertainty.
10th March: Biked down to central Rome see a friend who lives near the Colosseum. This area is normally seething with tourists but there was an eerie silence and only one tour bus, unloading a group of French tourists. All pools and sport clubs have been closed, so we walked to the Caffarella Park. The park is full of dozens of Italian families having a stroll, runners, bikers and kids climbing Roman ruins. Get a phone call from an Italian friend who tells me to return home immediately in line with the Government’s ‘io sto a casa’ (I’m staying home) emergency guidelines. Whilst the open-air activities are allowed, we are being told to remain home as much as possible. I’m lucky in being able to enjoy the tepid spring air from my balcony, a welcome freshness. Several of my neighbours spend the day wildly pacing up and down their balconies, speaking into cell phones.
11th March: Received several voice messages from Roman friends about medical staff working in Lombardy, one of the worst affected regions in Italy. One message warns of intensive care units at risk of collapse. ‘We’re not dealing with a banal case of influenza, COVID-19 is deadly’ is the message, and it circulates swiftly via WhatsApp. Do a group German lesson online rather than at the school. I’m able to keep up with a lot of my social activities, but technology is vital to continuing these commitments during lockdown. Some of my friends are using exercise videos from YouTube to stay fit. I decided to take my forlorn-looking swimming trunks from the bathroom, they remind me of better times!
12th March: Wake up to silence. No noisy school kids running around and hardly any traffic. I realise I can hear complete bird song conversations for the first time in years. Spend time answering messages from friends and family abroad explaining that yes, the city is uncannily quiet but no, it’s not like being in solitary confinement (because staying at home is always an option for a pensioner). Go to the local supermarket. Have to wait outside at a distance of one metre from others until told to enter. Some customers are wearing single use gloves and face masks (where did they get them?). Others use scarves as makeshift masks. People aren’t chatty, look worried and keep a distance of over three metres. Once inside some fill two trolleys while most customers do a normal shop. The floor leading to the checkout now has painted red boxes marking one metre intervals. Government advice is that one person per family should do the shopping to minimise the risk of infection.
13th March: Decide to do half an hour of stretching exercises every morning while confined to home. I normally bike around Rome and I am beginning to miss the exercise and glorious architectural variety the city offers. Receive a Skype call from a friend in Vienna. Have the feeling Austria is where Italy was ten days ago, experiencing an unsettling combination of disbelief and non-acceptance of the need to combat the virus through self-isolation. In Italy, any initial talk of an exaggerated government response to COVID-19 has been replaced by acceptance. Spend time organising books and food. I suspect that I am developing a siege mentality and will hoard whatever I have at home. Sit on my small balcony and read the Italian and UK press online. I can’t understand why the UK government doesn’t introduce an early lockdown to prevent the virus spreading. Decide to limit my news intake to avoid being paralysed by trying to follow the increasingly rapid rise in COVID-19 cases.
‘We are grateful for the measures being taken in Iran, Italy and the Republic of Korea to slow the virus and control their epidemics. We know that these measures are taking a heavy toll on societies and economies, just as they did in China. All countries must strike a fine balance between protecting health, minimising economic and social disruption, and respecting human rights’.
— World Health Organisation Director General’s opening remarks at the media briefing on COVID-19, 11th March 2020.
With the right circumstances and resources, lockdown can be a challenging yet bearable experience. But for many, and especially those with physical, and mental health conditions, the prospect of isolation is potentially overwhelming. Whilst many of us prepare for a fragile future by stockpiling home essentials, another necessary stage of preparation may be to think of those who are most likely to struggle. If we identify ourselves within this category, lockdown may require more of us to step out of our comfort zones and ask for help, whilst remaining in the familiar confines of our homes.
*This article has been updated since publication regarding the number of UK deaths, from 35 to 55.