Italy on Tuesday was a country in quiet emergency: little chatter, few hugs, few cars, no sports, empty piazzas, vacated restaurants and a deepening sense that a prolonged period of social isolation was the only way to slow the coronavirus.
The Italian government announced more than 10,000 confirmed cases of covid-19 and 631 deaths as of Tuesday evening. There were fewer new cases reported than in previous days, but the new figures show the largest single daily jump in deaths.
The government’s historic ordering of a nationwide lockdown – limiting the movement of 60 million people – has transformed Italy into a testing ground for not only what it might take to control the virus, but how much a democracy is willing to upend life’s most basic routines and joys.
In Rome on Tuesday, the city was moving at a crawl. People tele-worked or didn’t work at all; they wore masks or wrapped scarves around their mouths; they kept a suspicious distance from others. They tried to drop the habits that seemed suddenly dangerous – the kiss greeting; the chat at the cafe counter – even as depression and deep financial pain seemed like unavoidable side-effects of the lockdown.
“I’m mostly sealed indoors,” said Ivano Canni, 49, a newsstand owner, describing his sense, building for many other Italians as well, that any social contact carries a risk. “I’m trying to stand two meters apart from others. I open my door to let fresh air in for half an hour or so, then close it back.”
Italy’s initial response to the coronavirus outbreak had been to try to preserve normalcy and limit the economic sacrifices. But as active cases have accelerated, the approach has changed dramatically, leading to restrictions on movement unprecedented by a democracy and new moves by Italy’s neighbors to tighten or close borders.
On the first day of the nationwide lockdown, Italians appeared to be largely heeding orders, following the pleas of Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who said Italy’s health system was at risk of being overwhelmed if people continued to move freely and spread the virus.
Describing all of Italy as a “protected zone,” Conte on Monday night ordered a decree to essentially keep Italians in place, with any travel – abroad or across regions – requiring a signed declaration and checks from police. Some leaders in the north, the epicenter of the outbreak, suggested Tuesday that Italy should go even further in tightening the restrictions, stopping all non-essential business and transportation.
Italy’s strategy against the virus has moved quickly only because the disease has grown exponentially. Sixteen days ago, it had some 100 total cases. Ten days ago it had 1,000. On Tuesday, it had more than 8,500 active cases; another 1,000 people had recovered, and 631 had died. The country, with the world’s second-highest proportion of seniors, is particularly vulnerable to a disease that has proven deadliest for the elderly. Most who have died from the coronavirus were in their 70s or older.
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SOURCE: Stamford Advocate, Chico Harlan and Stefano Pitrelli