When it comes to national tragedies, the italian people have always been portrayed as the most generous of all: donating money when a terrible earthquake hits, so schools will be the first thing to be built and children can go back to normal; transporting livestock from one region to another, so that the shepherds who lost their animals in a flood can start working again in a matter of a few weeks; or volunteering as medics, nurses, firefighters, teachers, asking for nothing in return but the well-being of those who are there to help. Sometimes, italian generosity is there way before the goverment decides on urgent measures. And this is to be seen not only inside the country, but also worldwide.
So, why is it now so difficult for some italians to keep up with the urgent measures required by the outbreak of Corona virus?
With over 74.000 cases and more than 7.000 deaths reported (data from Protezione Civile, March, 25th), Italy is the country most afflicted with the virus after China. First cases were reported on Jan, 30th (2 chinese tourists in Rome). On Feb., 22nd, the first 7 italian cases, in the northern part of Italy, marked the start of the epidemic in the Country. The goverment issued, quite early on if compared to other EU countries, the first (of many) emergency measures: smart working from home when possible; schools and universities closed; no-entry zones (in italian called ‘zone rosse’); non-essential shops and places shut down, to avoid social gatherings. Eventually, quarantine measures were expanded from the North of Italy, center of the epidemic, throughout all the Country, locking down Italy from the rest of the world. Pretty harsh measures for a country that is most known for its bella vita and social connections.
And here comes one possible answer to my question above: we are too social. We base our economy on social connections and interactions, our lives on family, friends, aperitivo. Even in times of tragedies, we rely on each other to fight the common enemy and be born again from our ashes, like a modern and quite loud phoenix. Social life is how we cope with difficulties.
This time, all of the above has been taken away from us. We cannot gather, we cannot interact. So, we panic.
When Mr. Conte signed the decree expanding the zona rossa to the whole lenght on the peninsula, on the night between the 7th and the 8th of March, the generosity of the italian people crumbled. Asked not to leave their houses, hundreds decided nonetheless to flee the northern regions of Italy catching the last night train south from Milan to Salerno. Thus, the virus travelled from the most infected regions in the North to (at that time) the safe heavens in the South. This has led the illness to spread to the regions that, historically, are less developed in terms of health service. If the contagion in the South will reach the numbers we are witnessing now in the North, hospitals won’t be able to survive the pressure. Mr. Lopalco, virologist, coordinating the emergency task force in the southern region of Puglia, hopes that the peak of infections will reach the territory once the crisis has left the North: this will allow resources from the North to be displaced South to help treating the patients.
When asked why, those who fled from the North said ‘I don’t want to be alone’. Even last week, people were seen strolling along the Navigli in Milan, going for a park picnic in Rome, having rooftop parties in the Sardinian city of Sassari. And the answer has always been the same ‘We don’t want to be alone. We cannot survive this thing alone’. Fear of loneliness is scarier than the one brought about by Corona. Seeing each other on Skype is not enough. We need handshakes, we need hugs, we need that double kiss on the cheek. We need what we italians call ‘calore umano’. Because this is the only thing keeping us together, a country of 60 million people usually divided into north and south, islands and continent, rich and poor, polentoni and terroni. And so we are driven to keep on behaving the same way even when asked to act differently. We are aware of the danger of the Corona virus, we know that we can risk our lives and the one of others if we go out and gather, but we are too spoiled. And for someone, cautiousness is just too weak to win recklessness over.
Moreover, Italy has one of the highest rates of elderly population in the world: grandparents are the first nannies for children, and social interaction between young and old people has led to an increase in the contagion – and eventually, death – of more people than expected.
Nonetheless, the majority of italians is doing a great job. They are being heroes without even leaving their kitchen. The ones staying home, going for groceries only once a week, offering this service also to old neighbors. First responders, doctors and nurses, risking their lives so less people will be forced to put theirs in danger. To make things easier, now that we are experiencing a shortage in basic emergency supplies – both individual (face masks and gloves, hand sanitizer) and in the hospital field (ventilators, chemical reagent for tests) – italian firms have decided to switch part of the production from cars (Ferrari and Fiat Chrysler) to ventilators; from luxury clothes (Gucci, Prada, Valentino, Moschino) to face masks. Pizzerias are sending free food to hospitals, the italian way to say grazie. Generosity speaks other languages, too: China and Russia have been shipping emergency supplies to our Country, whilst Cuba has sent 50 doctors and nurses to help treat Corona patients in the North of Italy.
This is the Italy I love and I want to go back to, this is the kind of calore umano from afar we need just now. We cannot hug or kiss, but we can sing, play, scream the national Anthem from our balconies and terrazze. As Mr. Conte said, a couple of weeks ago, ‘Torneremo ad abbracciarci’ – ‘Eventually, we will hug again’.
Tutto andrà bene.
Everything is going to be alright.
Todo va a salir bien.
Minden jo lesz.
Sources and more info can be found here:
Protezione civile italiana
Photo courtesy: Gennaro Esposito/AVL