‘There will be time to hang out, go to work or on vacation’ – an Account from the Italian Quarantine

By Eleonora Schianchi

Friday, 13th March.

I am entering a supermarket with my grandad when a guard stops us and says that one of us must wait outside: we are not allowed to do grocery shopping together. I had no idea that the rules had changed once again. My grandad Renzo, born in 1943, turned to me in shock, expressing that never in his whole life had he experienced restrictions of this intensity.

I am a 23-year-old woman from Sassuolo, near Modena, and until 2 weeks ago I was working as an art educator at Musei Civici, in Reggio Emilia. As my job required constant contact with children, I was evidently one of the first to be required to stay at home. While this is my first job, I am also a student of Didactic and Arts’ Communication at the Academy of Fine Arts, in Bologna. At this point, I should be using the past tense in relation to my studies, since my graduation ceremony was scheduled on the twenty-sixth of February. Unfortunately, though, after initially being postponed a few times, the graduation was then cancelled altogether. I was hoping to have started applying to postgraduate programs throughout Europe and I was excited about the idea of settling down abroad, when suddenly my future became a blur. After a while, I just stopped thinking about it altogether: It’s easier that way.

At the time of writing this, Italy is the country with the second highest amount of coronavirus cases in the world. First all schools and universities were closed, then people started to stock up on food, water, masks, and disinfectant. Finally, Lombardy and eleven other provinces became ‘red zones’. However, this distinction didn’t matter so much, because within twenty-four hours the whole country became a ‘protected zone[3]’.

Chiuso’ means ‘closed’ in Italian. All pictures taken by the author.

Here in Sassuolo, we have been in quarantine since the 10th of March. What does this mean you might ask? Well, it essentially means that we have to stay at home – end of the story. There is no leaving of the home permitted except for in the case of grocery shopping, brief walks or pressing health needs. Each time I leave my home, I am required to bring a form with me stating where I am going and why. If I meet a police officer, I must show this paper, and I have to prove that my statement is true by some method. If I cannot prove this, I will receive a fine. This means no visits to friends, relatives, even parents. But it is very possible that things could get even worse. In Wuhan, China, people have been in quarantine for over fifty days, with even stricter rules. Their temperature is checked when they go out and when they return home, and if it’s above thirty-seven, they must stay in.

In Italy, we thought everything would go back to normality within a week, but it’s been more than a month since they discovered the first case. China was first, then Italy, now one by one every country is taking different measures to face the virus.

Some areas in Italy have been in quarantine since March 10th

But will every country have to live in a period of quarantine? Can the course of events be changed? We don’t know. Some people have not even tried to act differently, often challenging the very purpose of these measures. In Naples the other day, while waiting to get his temperature checked, a man, frustrated by the situation, spit in the face of the doctor who was testing him. In response,the Head of the hospital stated that “Spitting on somebody’s face right now is like shooting a gun”.

The Covid-19 virus is spreading everywhere and faster than we thought, forcing us to change our habits just as quickly – and we were in no way ready for such drastic changes. As privileged people of the Global North, we are simply not used to compromises. We have the ability to buy things that we didn’t even know we wanted, we can go anywhere and meet anybody at any time. However, in this time we will have to make an exception. We need to stop, think, and start caring about everyone else, inside and outside our country. This historical moment is asking us to cultivate and use empathy, cohesion, and trust to defeat a virus we still don’t have the cure for.

The World Health Organization, our governments – with a some exceptions, such as Sweden or the UK to date – and medical professionals are telling us what we must do in order to deal with this: let’s listen to them and cooperate. This is not the time for selfishness or a laissez-faire attitude. China and Italy have been badly hit by the virus, even though some may not want to believe it. People must understand that this is not a joke. We need to stay informed, keeping up to date with what is happening in other countries, and behaving in the correct way in order to break the cycle. There will be plenty of time to hang out, go to restaurants, to school, to work or on vacation. There will be time to go back to normal life, whatever this means to you. But for the time being, we must put our luxuries aside for the sake of public health. This is not a situation that can be taken lightly, and that is reflected clearly in the extreme measures that governments are taking throughout the world. We need to acquiesce and act in cohesion for the benefit of humanity.

We must take this virus seriously and stay at home.



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