With empty shelves, movement restrictions and face masks selling for €70 each, Italy has certainly been hit hard by its coronavirus lockdown.
As the coronavirus pandemic sweeps across the globe, one country outside of China has been impacted like no other. With over 1,000 lives lost to the virus already, Italy is now taking tough measures to try to bring the virus under control.
I spoke to Italian company director Massimo Barbieri to get an insight into what life is like in Italy under the coronavirus lockdown.
Massimo usually lives and works in Milan, but left the coronavirus epicentre last week to be with his mother in the city of Ferrara. Situated just outside the hard-hit Lombardy region, the situation in Ferrara is much the same as elsewhere in Italy.
“Everywhere in Italy is locked down,” Massimo says. “Everyone is at home and the majority of shops are closed. Just the supermarkets and pharmacies are open.”
At this time of year, the streets of Ferrara are usually bustling and full of life as the weather starts to improve for the spring. However, today the streets are empty.
“It’s a very strange life in isolation,” Massimo admits. “It’s a sunny day today and normally people would be out visiting relatives or at the park with their children. But not anymore. It’s very unusual.”
Under coronavirus lockdown in Italy, movement outside of the home is restricted and any non-essential trips are forbidden.
“I’m allowed to go out but only for essential things like food and medicine. If I am ill and I need to see a doctor, I have to call them and a doctor or nurse will come to visit me. If I need a new prescription, I need to speak to the doctor on the phone.” Any physical interactions, especially with those who may be infected, are strongly discouraged.
A new rule requires anyone who leaves their home to carry a special form with them. The form must contain their personal details and the purpose of their trip. Failing to do so may have serious consequences.
“If you go outside without the form and the police stop you, you will receive a fine of €206 and you can go to prison.”
While there are some police on the streets, the numbers are not overwhelming. The police presence is mainly concentrated in the northern cities, Massimo says.
When I asked Massimo about the situation in the supermarkets and pharmacies, he explained that the supermarket shelves are full in the mornings but empty in the evenings. The pharmacies have normal medicine but sometimes you need to order it in.
“If you need to go to the pharmacy, they are sometimes not full so you may have to return the next day,” Massimo explains. However, he expressed little concern for running out of medicine. “In Italy, every family already has a little pharmacy at home,” he jokes.
As for the supermarkets, panic buying is unsurprisingly a regular occurrence.
“Every day people buy a lot of food and supplies. Sometimes the shelves are empty,” Massimo describes. However, with most supermarkets getting new deliveries every day, he isn’t worried about running out of food any time soon.
The same can’t be said for face masks.
“It’s impossible to find a mask. I’ve had to order mine from Amazon UK,” Massimo says.
Out of desperation, some people have spent huge amounts of money on single masks.
“One person went to Milan to buy two normal masks for €70 each. It’s a scandal.”
Concerns for southern Italy
Currently, coronavirus cases are concentrated in the richer, northern parts of Italy. Massimo worries for those in the south, who he believes will not be equipped to tackle the virus.
“When the north was shut down, many southern Italians escaped back to the south. Many will have carried the coronavirus with them. Nobody checked.” Within a couple of weeks, he fears, we may see a drastic increase in cases in the south too.
“The health service in the south is poor. The hospitals are old-fashioned and there’s a lack of doctors, nurses and beds. They are ill-prepared there.”
When I asked Massimo how concerned he was about the situation in general, he said, “I am a bit worried. Everyone is a bit worried.”
Advice to the UK
Massimo believes the measures Italy has taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus came too late. He expressed concern for other European countries’ lack of action in the face of the pandemic.
“[In Italy] it was too late to lock down the country. So many people are dying now and the number of cases increases every day. In two or three weeks, France, Germany and England will be in the same position as Italy,” Massimo warns.
He hopes that greater steps will be taken before it is too late. Until then, he advises that everyone across Europe and beyond avoid crowded areas and take the necessary precautions to try to prevent the spread of the virus themselves.
Massimo ends on a more positive note. “Last Sunday, people were careless. They were skiing, going to the beach and spending time in crowded squares. But now they understand they can’t do that anymore,” he explains.
With the new measures and restrictions in place, Italians are better equipped to control the spread of coronavirus. Though Massimo believes these measures should have come far earlier, the complete lockdown of the country is certainly a step in the right direction. Before long, Massimo hopes, the situation will be under control.
With over a thousand already dead, it appears that Italy’s moves to control the spread of coronavirus came too late. I wonder, will the UK make the same mistake?