Featured News The Covid-19 outbreak: Italians rise to the occasion

The Covid-19 outbreak: Italians rise to the occasion

They respond with their own brand of lockdown amusement

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Some of the original opinions expressed in this article can be attributed to Erik Jones, an expert on European and Eurasian Studies at the Johns Hopkins School of Advanced International Studies and contributor for US News & World Report.

We are living in harrowing times, and there is a demand to act with urgency more than ever before, if we are to beat the spread of Covid-19, which has infected more than 286,000 people and killed more than 11,800 globally.

Seeing how the crisis has unfolded in Italy has shaken the country, its people, and frankly, the rest of the world. Italy’s case count has shot up to more than 47,000 infected, second only to China’s numbers of more than 81,000 cases. In terms of fatalities, however, Italy’s count — now above 4,000 — has surpassed that of China’s, which hits just above 3,200.

Last week was a critical one for Italians. The government announced that national lockdown would be extended beyond March 23, the original end date, to April 3. Depending on the circumstances, that may be subject to further change.

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Italians were also informed that more stringent restrictions on social distancing and personal movement would be put in place, possibly for several months to come.

Being placed under lockdown has not been an easy pill for strong-willed Italians to swallow — from March 11 to 17, police caught around 43,000 people violating lockdown rules, which state that people can only leave the house for absolute necessities such as food or medicines. The Italian authorities have pressed charges against the deviant individuals.

The presence of the army, moving coffins in the night across the country, was a grim reminder that crematoria in certain communities have been unable to handle the number of fatalities from the  pandemic.

Italy and the rest of the world are facing a challenge of unprecedented magnitude, and we can only beat it if we work together.

World Health Organisation Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus is calling for global “solidarity”, even sternly chastising the young that they are not “invincible”, reminding them that even if they do not get sick, “the choices you make about where you go could be the difference between life and death for someone else”.

What the Italians have gone through has been a long and costly learning experience, with one of the most difficult challenges to surmount being the change in perspective.

The tragedy of the Covid-19 outbreak was one they observed from afar, at first, and it was impersonal. Even when things took off in Lombardy, the epicentre of the virus in Italy, most Italians were still personally removed from it all, because they were located somewhere else or did not have a personal connection to anyone who was infected.

The Italian government struggled to explain to citizens that we are all connected, mostly by fewer than six degrees of separation. This is alarming, especially when you think about the extremely contagious nature of Covid-19.

The authorities sprang into action to quarantine affected communities, but that would not be enough. They set lockdown to cover most of the north of the country, where the majority of the outbreaks were, but that only caused Italians from the north to flee to supposedly unaffected areas.

Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte explained restrictions on social movement, to mitigate the spread of Covid-19, and the  government has continued to tighten lockdown rules and restrictions, and the Italians are finding ways to cope.

It’s no secret that the passionate and independent Italians have had a hard time with the restrictions and social distancing rules. But they are rising to the challenge, albeit slowly, adapting their behaviour  and habits, with law enforcement doing its part to implement laws and catch those who flout them.

People have been expressly forbidden from gathering, and even jogging outside one’s home is prohibited.

Italians have responded with their own brand of lockdown amusement — singing, dancing, playing instruments and exercising “together while apart” from their different balconies and outdoor spaces.

The public is more or less on board with the new restrictions — 94 per cent of respondents to a recent poll agree with or strongly agree with the new restrictions and measures the government is enforcing.

Health workers in Italy are being touted as national heroes, while they work to not only combat the Covid-19 pandemic but also to handle other emergency medical services. Italians are now taking more of a personal approach to the outbreak, recognising the sacrifices of medical professionals as well as their own roles in the fight against Covid-19.

The crisis has become a painful and personal ordeal for Italians — families and friends have got infected, have passed away or are stuck in different locations. For Italians, many lessons were learned the hard way.

Italy — and the rest of the world — is learning that this is what life during a global pandemic is truly like. /TISG

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