Coronavirus Italy: Three Weeks Later

It’s been three weeks since the first case of Coronavirus was recorded in Rome. Since then, the situation has only got increasingly worse. Numbers from last night show that the death toll has now skyrocketed. A record of 113 deaths was reported in the Lombardy region alone. In the next few hours, Italy is set to surpass South Korea as the country with the most cases of fatalities and cases combined, officially becoming the second in the world after China. 7400 detected; 366 already dead; 650 clinging to life.

To make matter worse, two days ago, a draft decree declaring the plan to initiate a complete lockdown for northern cities leaked from the government cabinet to the press. The news caused widespread panic among many Italians. Clips showing hundreds of people flooding the train stations in cities like Milan eager to leave for their home towns in the south before too late, went viral on social media. Thanks to this, conservatives are now calling even harder for the government to resign. This is at minimum understandable, the current administration has repeatedly failed to live up to the challenge. The government led by Conte has done several mistakes by now, this one being only—arguably—the most significant.

Meanwhile, the climate gets more surreal by the day. Attitudes range from indifferent to exaggerated. Until now, the average citizen seemed to be either panicking, or going through denial. We Italians are very culturally conservative, we don’t like changing our habits. We like open spaces, city squares, parks, restaurants. So, some of us are following the precautions as advised hoping the situation will resolve itself soon. Then, at the extremes, there are the rare paranoid types keeping distances like the black plague is back. But for the most part, people seem to be committed to continuing acting like everything is normal; like it’s “no big deal”. Perhaps the most natural of human reactions. A left-wing politician from the 5SM posted a picture of himself having a night out with friends. Few bar owners are offering free Aperol Spritz, hoping to ‘get things going again’. Marketing campaigners are mocking the fear and downplaying the precautions. Those acting normal, are either implicitly or explicitly calling for others to do the same. Mostly seems to be ignorance of the big picture and economic self-interest rather than a well-formed opinion, but perhaps, also fear and denial.

In the political sphere, aside from the sadness and toxicity of the ideological debate between left and right—which in some cases shows the growing cultural contempt for the elderly in the attempt to deemphasize the dangers—what worries people all across the spectrum the most is the economy. Understandably, the most hit regions from day one are also the most productive. Not just in Italy, but also in Europe. Veneto (mine) and Lombardia. Regions like Piemonte, for example, sends dozens of millions of euros to the south every day with no return on investment. Some economists are projecting that, if they were to crash, Italy would crash; and if Italy crashes, Europe might follow. With that in mind, the question is: what would cost us more lives in the long run? The virus? The inevitable recession? Needless to say, we don’t have the answer yet, maybe we never will. What should be done—or should have been done for that matter—is far from clear. I suspect no one has a clue across the West. We weren’t prepared. What to do… What is true… What would work… Lots of confusion and very little clarity, even among the ‘experts’.

So, on a little personal note, if nothing else, what the whole crisis (soon-to-be-declared global pandemic?) has managed to do for me—among other things—is reinforcing what I’ve been suspecting for some time now. All these people that we hold up as oracles of truth and champions of objectivity—namely scientists and economists—the whole ‘scientific community’, is far vaguer than we like to admit. The many contradictory statements by experts, the confusion on how we should tackle the problem and the debates on where and how it originated confirm it. As an Italian journalist said last week in a tweet (referring to science): “This thing we’ve been calling the arbiter of objective truth, looks like it’s mostly based on contingencies and disagreements, after all”.

That aside, I’m also very conflicted. Due to my—relatively—low level of disgust sensitivity, I mostly feel like going through the day as normal. But then, thinking it through rationally, I end up following the rules as advised. Perhaps because of my conservative upbringing. Nonetheless, my biological inclinations pushing me in one direction, my intellectual efforts in the other. But the latter doesn’t seem to go too far. I can’t see the end of the equation. What the right reaction should be, I do not know. On what the best solutions to implement are, on the other hand, I do have many ideas (just like everyone else who has an active social media account apparently), but not a single one that I can back up with sufficiently strong arguments. For the first time in my life, if someone more ignorant than me were to ask, I feel like I’d have nothing of value to say.

In closing, I have a bad feeling in general. Yes, I’m confident in our capacity to find the strength of character necessary to get through it as one, united nation. But however else I look at it, whether economically or politically, it looks like we are in big trouble. Sort of stuck between a rock and a hard place. While it appears that we are set to choose health over the economy despite some believe it should be vice versa, none of us are really sure which one will cause more damage long term. Truth is, in our defense, science and objectivity aside, there just wasn’t enough time.

But damage there will be, that scenario just seems unavoidable. Maybe it’s just the pessimist inside me, but if one thing is clear, is that whatever happens next it’s gonna costs us a big price. We are way past if, the only question now, is ‘how big’. “There’s a storm coming”, if you ask me, that’s how I feel. And while, again, I have no doubts we will find enough cultural unity to face it together in the weeks to come, what I fear, is that we might not have the necessary skills to successfully navigate our way through it. To make wise decisions, when true hard times will hit. 

An iconic picture of an Italian nurse in Cremona (one of the most affected areas). Resting on a desk for a few moments, just in time to find the energies to return to her duty.

by: Mark Granza

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