After nearly two weeks of lockdown, the daily lives of us Italians are constantly punctuated by fixed, often sinister appointments. We wake up to the last figures of the COVID-19 contagion around the world. We have lunch while watching the latest news on TV, which is far from reassuring most of the time. In the afternoon, people in Lombardy—the worst-affected region in the country—are used to follow Governor Attilio Fontana’s press conference, who has recently been sounding the alarm once again on the region’s healthcare system, literally overwhelmed by patients. At 6 pm, we are given what we usually call “the war bulletin,” when the Italian Civil Protection provides the updated numbers of the dead and the infected. At the same time, in several towns and cities of the country people sing together the most iconic Italian songs from their balconies, such as Azzurro, Volare, and the national anthem, Fratelli d’Italia, in an attempt to lift the spirits and comfort each other. However, over the last few days, many have suggested it is time to replace this uplifting practice with a minute of silence to honor the victims of the pandemic.
On Thursday, national media broke the news which nobody would have wanted to hear: Italy has officially surpassed China as the country with most coronavirus deaths, as its number of fatalities reached 3,045, rising to 4,032 on Friday. However, experts believe that the peak of contagion is still to be reached and might occur around March 25. The developments following will depend on people’s compliance with the rules set forth by the government’s last decrees. While a large number of Italians—especially in the worst-affected regions—are now fully aware of the crisis the country is facing, many others keep going out apparently without a purpose related to an emergency. According to recent figures, over 50,000 people have been charged by the police with breaking the existing quarantine rules. And over the last few hours, the government has been considering prohibiting running and exercising outdoors. “The general warning is to stay home, and if it is not respected, we will be forced to establish an absolute and general ban,” Italian Minister for Sport Vincenzo Spadafora told reporters.
In the meantime, the national debate has been increasingly focusing on coronavirus testing. Without any doubt, thus far Italy has been among the Western nations that have tested more people. However, the situation within the country is still unequal. Even the worst-affected regions are behaving differently: Veneto and Emilia-Romagna are working to expand their COVID-19 testing regime, while Lombardy doesn’t seem to be willing to adopt the same approach. Governor of the Veneto, Mr. Luca Zaia, has recently announced his intention to test as many people as possible, including those with no symptoms. A study carried out in Vo’ Euganeo, one of the first outbreaks in Italy, indicates that 50-70% of the infected showed mild or no symptoms at all. However, those people pose a clear risk to public health. According to new research by scientists at Columbia University Mailman School of Public Health, undetected cases, many of which were likely not severely symptomatic, were largely responsible for the rapid spread of the COVID-19 outbreak in China. It is no surprise that in recent hours, 52 mayors from Lombardy have called for expanding coronavirus testing operations even in that region. In the meantime, Governor Fontana demanded more restrictive measures from the Italian government, such as the increase of the military units employed in order to ensure people’s compliance with the quarantine rules. 114 military units are already deployed in Milan, while on Thursday the first soldiers arrived in Campania, Sicily, and other regions.
As coronavirus cases continue to climb all across Europe, the light at the end of the tunnel seems to be still far away. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said he will extend the nationwide lockdown and the other restrictive measures beyond the original deadlines (March 25 for retailers, April 3 for schools). In the meantime, fears are growing that the situation in Southern Italy will soon get worse, as over 25,000 students and workers have escaped from the Northern regions in order to reach their families in the South. According to recent figures, in Puglia 15% of them showed flu-like symptoms, and several family members have already been hospitalized.
With each passing day, the general atmosphere in the Mediterranean country becomes more and more mournful. A shocking photograph showing military trucks transporting the victims’ coffins out of the city of Bergamo—one of the worst-affected in the whole country—has turned into the heartbreaking symbol of this crisis. These days, that image is impressed on the memory of every Italian citizen, and will hardly be forgotten.