Quarantine can make you forget what day it is. The lock-down imposed nationally on March 12, to shutdown most businesses and a ban on public gatherings in Italy, the European country worst hit by the pandemic, has had some of us camped at home for the past two weeks in order to contain the spread of the coronavirus. We are now used to it and already making travel plans within our homes to visit the bedroom, kitchen, balcony and any other corner in the house just to get by. How did we get here?
A friend of mine put it this way: that it looks like the whole world just thought it was a Chinese disease. Even President Trump recently called it the “Chinese virus”. The world did not stop running because China was battling a serious infection. Instead, it was business as usual. It was intermittently reported in news, often dressed in racism and stereotypes – typical of media’s agenda setting specialty. We all thought it was going to end there. After all, we don’t eat bats and other ‘disgusting’ things. We felt safe. There wasn’t much study on how it was spreading or its contagiousness. Instead, when bats and wildlife were fingered, the burden to stop its spread was left to the consumers. In the early days the message was *stop eating anything that moves*. Memes and jokes were made to that effect. Meanwhile, China was fighting what would turn into a global pandemic. When it reached the European shores and the US, that’s when the world was awakened from its slumber. But not everyone. Africa took the most decorated seat in the gallery, to watch. It’s a disease for them. We comforted ourselves. Even a biology layman was able to explain genetics and DNA to everyone – just to push home that we are immune. We pointed at temperatures too. It’s too hot here, it cannot live here. Now, here we are! The world could have responded better and quicker and stopped this whilst it was still in China. Even the World Health Organization was found napping in the early days. They were reluctant to issue travel restrictions, leaving everything to the Communist Party, whom I say are doing alright to fight the scourge in China. Now it is a little too late.
Italy reported a record high 793 deaths in one day, bringing the total number of fatalities to 7,503 according to the department of civil protection as of 25 March. The total number of confirmed cases in Italy, including the deceased and recovered, has almost reached 80,000. With all these figures transparently shared with the world, it obviously got the attention of my kith and kin back home in Africa. Suddenly, by default, I became the PR officer for Africa-Italy related news (mostly fake) to address the fears connected to this plague that has hit hard the land of “Dolce Vita”. This is the beauty and burden of being a Marie Curie scholar and being hosted by another country. You experience the opportunity of wearing different hats and in this case, in dispelling rumors, worries and fears and at the same time, providing hope and reliable information. A better viewed sweet Italy means less worries for my people and those that depend on me. Some wealthy colleagues are also inquiring if they should book for holidays this coming summer or not. It’s been a busy week in doing the best I can to share positivity and emphasizing on caution. Even, Italy’s premier Conte has expressed hope that the country will hit a peak in a few days and see a decline in infection rates. But he warned “we will not be able to return immediately to life as it was before even after the worst is over”. Experts are not yet able to predict with certainty when the outbreak will reach its peak and when Italy will start to see the number of cases fall. Some experts estimate the peak will occur in early April. However, other analysts, noting that infections are starting to rise in the south where I am based, where many Italians moved to after the start of containment measures in the north, predict that figures across Italy will only stabilize around April 15. Still others say that such predictions are impossible, as data vary enormously depending on the region, and a whole range of different factors are at play. With all these unknowns and lack of reliable data for predictions of the future, public relations become the only assurance for brighter days to come.
“We are learning the hard way” says a voice coming from Napoli. The first lesson coming from Italy’s experience of the pandemic is the crucial importance of collaboration between citizens and official institutions. If Conte’s government has locked down public life, forced millions of people into a de facto quarantine with the possibility of facing the economic costs that risk recession, it is because this is the only effective prescription to ultimately defeat the virus in the absence of a vaccine. But for that to be successful, it is necessary for every individual citizen to play their part responsibly. Personal responsibility is important because of the existing constitutional limits to the obligations that the state can impose on citizens, due to democracy. Failure to do so will result in the pandemic transforming into every street, every apartment block, every house and the entire country. It is, therefore, pertinent and vital for everyone to understand the importance of their conscious participation and behaviors, so that we can achieve the desired result: defeating the virus and returning to normalcy. I do miss the lively streets of Naples; university office talk and guidance, the pizza varieties and the limoncello-spritz sit-ins with my colleagues. All is gone now ☹
An empty street in Naples
There is also another lesson from the Italian experience reflected in the people who on 13-14 March collectively played or sang the national anthem (sometimes off-key 😊) from their homes at their windows and balconies, , as well as “O Sole Mio” and other beloved songs, as a way of uniting against the pandemic in a show of spontaneous patriotism that ultimately makes the nation more cohesive. The nation also applauded the doctors and nurses who are key figures in the fight against the virus through various social media platforms. All the gestures show the Italian spirit of never giving up, having hope and positivity even in these tough times of our lives. One Friday morning, Prof. Ulgiati shared with us a few encouraging photos. One photo showing the virus experts coming from China to help thus confirming, once again, that friendship has no boundaries, despite the stupidity, ignorance and narratives set that may seek to divide us as a people. It confirmed that diversity is a richness and makes the entire system stronger and more resilient. What followed this touching e-mail were overwhelming responses from almost all the 28 recipients that had been copied with messages of hope and they are coping with our new life under lock-down. It was really uplifting and up to now we consistently check on each other as a team.
Photos kindly shared by Prof Ulgiati
It’s so funny how things can change overnight, and we learn from this that anything can change any minute. What is now happening across the world with most countries closing borders and some putting restrictive measures to curb population movements is a reminder that we need to live the best of our lives while we can. The young will say YOLO-you only live once. It is time to reflect and become the best of ourselves and ultimately better humans. Most of you may now be experiencing and going through your first days of social isolation and must be vigilant and take notice of the voices that may speak to you while alone. What is needed now is to panic less and try to be calm. The situation is bad for real. But panicking worsens it. Just remember, some (most) are recovering from this. But you can only recover if your immune system is working fine. Stress will affect your immune system and that will cause more problems. It’s about time we practice all the precautions we have been circulating and forwarding to others such as washing hands with soap or alcohol-based sanitizers, maintaining social distance and staying at home. In quarantine, also remember when the lock-down is over, if you don’t support the traders of your city they will never rise, and you will live in a ghostly city forever. It’s the small shops that keep the city alive, I think you are now more than ever realizing it. Remember what they are losing these days and the sacrifices they will make when they reopen. Don’t get caught up in online shopping because you don’t need futile things in quarantine, rather keep that money in your pocket to spend it when you get the freedom and opportunity to leave your apartments. This is also an opportunity to write that paper that you have been procrastinating on 😊 and a time to do other things that keep you busy, in order not to be depressed by the coronavirus. Of course, nothing bad in reading books, practicing physical exercises, cooking and playing guitar, something we never have time to do when we return to normalcy.
Listen to the voices from Napoli. Stay safe, stay healthy… there is light at the end of the tunnel😊