It has been a strange few weeks in Rome to say the least. COVID-19 hit Italy swiftly and vigorously. Starting in the north, the virus made its course throughout various regions of Italy causing the government to issue an unprecedented nationwide lockdown that has been in place for over two weeks now. With social distancing and self-isolation protocols in place, Italian residents, except those who honorably work in the medical field or essential services, are required to stay home until further notice to fight the spread of the pandemic.
Just like most people during this unheard-of time, you probably have a lot of questions. Though I am not a health professional, I can tell you what it is like to live in Rome during this unparalleled quarantine period and provide a little bit of background information on how the situation progressed here in Italy. Despite the grim circumstances, I can say there is a light at the end of the tunnel. Everyday, Italians continue to spread hope and positivity in a way I hope will prove inspiring to the rest of the world.
Timeline of the COVID-19 Pandemic in Italy
Following its spread from China, Italy quickly became the epicenter of Coronavirus in Europe
The first cases of COVID-19 were documented in Wuhan, China, late December 2019. Throughout the month of January, the number of infected cases and deaths continued to rise at an unprecedented rate. On January 23, Wuhan and other cities in the Hubei province went into a government issued lockdown, but not before the virus was able to spread into various other cities and countries around the world, including Italy.
Near the end of February, the regions of Lombardy and Veneto in northern Italy experienced a rising number of confirmed cases and deaths due to COVID-19. As a result, large gatherings were banned while a new set of restrictions on businesses were imposed. On March 8, a lockdown affecting 19 million people in northern Italy was announced.
On the evening of March 9, the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte imposed a nationwide quarantine affecting all of Italy. Under this lockdown order, Italian residents are required to remain in their homes, leaving only for necessary work or health purposes. It is uncertain as to how long we will live under these regulations. With a rising number of confirmed cases and fatalities, the lockdown order has the potential to be extended beyond its initially designated end date of April 3.
Nationwide Lockdown: Closures & Regulations
Even before the nationwide lockdown order was put into place, the normally crowded Vatican Museums had shorter lines than ever
Before the lockdown, schools, sporting events, and large gatherings (including weddings and funerals) were the first things to be canceled. In Rome, many important museums and cultural sites were closed as well marking the severity of the situation. After the quarantine measures were announced, businesses began to shut their doors while restaurants and bars opened only for certain hours of the day as long as they could guarantee customers were seated a safe distance away from one another.
It didn’t take long however, for all nonessential businesses including eating establishments to close entirely. Many companies also began sending their employees home to telework while schools and universities started instruction through online courses. Today, grocery stores, pharmacies, and establishments that provide necessary services are the only places remaining open in Rome.
With a ban on all unnecessary travel, the police may now also ask you to provide an official document stating your intentions and whereabouts if you are found walking or driving anywhere throughout the city. Even exercising outside of your property is highly discouraged these days, making routine shopping trips many Italians’ only glimpse of the outside world.
Greater Impact of Coronavirus on Italian Society
COVID-19 is creating a detrimental impact on the Italian economy and is changing the lives of many residents completely
Italy has only just begun to feel the consequences of this unprecedented lockdown and no one yet knows the possible long-term economic impacts it could have on society. What we do know is that a majority of businesses are temporarily closed and many people are left without a steady income. Many industries related to travel, tourism, sports, production, and hospitality, are being hit especially hard. As a result, many small businesses risk closure if they do not see a change soon.
The lockdown takes a toll on mental health as well. Those who are working from home have to adjust to a new environment, people living alone must deal with feelings of isolation, and families who are separated from one another must learn to cope for the time being. Meanwhile, people who are working overtime in essential services are left with added stress and exhaustion. Not to mention the many healthcare workers who are forced to make impossible decisions about which patients to treat in the overcrowded Italian hospitals.
In this time, we must extend our sincerest appreciation to the countless medical professionals and researchers who are working around the clock to combat this disease and care for the infected. Furthermore, we send our thoughts to anyone personally affected by the virus, especially to patients in Italy and around the world who are currently fighting for their lives.
What It’s Like to Live in Rome During the Coronavirus
While masks and hand sanitizer are hard to come by, grocery stores are stocked as usual in Rome
Though most people were fairly attentive to the escalating preventative measures in northern Italy, things felt seemingly normal in Rome until it was announced that the entire country would go on lockdown. After watching the news and receiving multiple messages telling me to stock up on food, I headed to the supermarket the next day.
On the way, I noticed that the surrounding street, usually busy with traffic, was empty and people were few and far between. Thankfully, the supermarket had no food shortages whatsoever and even had plenty of toilet paper, in case you were wondering. I credit that to the Italian people only taking what they need, a practice everyone else in the world should follow as well.
Over the past two weeks of quarantine, the grocery stores continue to remain fully stocked despite being busier than ever- fresh produce, meats, pasta, you name it! The only things hard to come by are masks, hand sanitizer, and for one local store, plastic bags to hold the groceries themselves. With new social distancing protocols in place, only a certain number of people are allowed into supermarkets and pharmacies at a time causing the lines out front to be quite lengthy at some times of the day. To help those at high risk, local churches have set up a delivery service to bring groceries to the elderly and others with existing medical conditions.
Besides the steep incline in hand-washing throughout the day, I think life has slowed down quite a bit for many people in Rome. Now that you aren’t able to run your daily errands, meet up with friends, go sightseeing at the Colosseum, or even grab a coffee at the local bar like usual, people are thinking of innovative ways to occupy their time. Some of my favorite ways to stay busy during the quarantine are cooking new recipes, trying home workouts, reading books, and of course, binge watching new series on Netflix. However, the most uplifting aspect of the lockdown, in my opinion, is the recurring trend to unite with your neighbors through music each day on your balcony.
Spreading Hope & Positivity Through Music, Art, & Patriotism
The strong sense of community that has emerged amidst the COVID-19 lockdown in Italy should inspire the world to keep spreading joy and positivity
To cope with these strange circumstances, Italians have gotten creative to say the least. Throughout various neighborhoods in Rome, Italian flags and makeshift banners are being hung in windows and on balconies. These colorful signs are decorated with rainbows while the hopeful phrase adorning them reads “andrà tutto bene,” which translates to “everything will be alright.” Over the past few weeks, this phrase has become a popular hashtag in Italy along with #iorestoacasa (#istayathome) which encourages people to stay indoors in order to prevent further spread of the virus.
In order to keep hopes up, reduce loneliness, and spread positivity, Italian residents have also started taking to their balconies, backyards, and rooftops in the evening around 6pm, to sing, dance, play instruments, wave Italian flags, and converse with their neighbors- all while keeping a safe distance, of course. Flyers with the time and plan for the daily activities are circulated across social media.
Popular song choices for these impromptu performances include the Italian national anthem, “Azzurro” by Adriano Celentano and “Ma il Cielo è Sempre Più Blu” by Rino Gaetano. There have even been scheduled rounds of applause around midday to honor the medical staff hard at work combating the virus. Another one of my favorite celebrations happened one evening at 9pm, when the whole neighborhood shut off their lights and waved flashlights in the air in solidarity.
These small but moving acts that bring the community together remind us that despite the devastating toll COVID-19 has taken on Italy, we must continue to spread positivity and remain hopeful for a brighter future to come.
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We hope we can show you all the beauty that Italy has to offer again soon- in the meantime, be sure to stay up-to-date on the latest information regarding COVID-19 from your local health officials
We are extremely hopeful that Italy will make a swift recovery so that the world can once again enjoy the beauty of this magnificent country. Wherever you may live, we urge you to stay safe, follow the advice of medical professionals, and remain updated on the latest information regarding Coronavirus through your local news source.
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