Monday, March 4, 2024
March 4, 2024

Letter from islander in an Italian ‘red zone’


It’s a sunny Sunday morning, streets bustling with couples young and old out for morning walks, families taking their children for bike rides, runners taking advantage of the sunny morning and people sitting on cafe patios reading the newspaper while enjoying a cappuccino and brioche. Walking these streets is like taking a breath of fresh air as spring flowers begin to bloom.

At first glance, it’s nearly impossible to tell that this is the “Northern Italy” that is making headlines around the world. The “red-zoned,” “terrifying,” “chaotic” Northern Italy that many people live in fear of right now is nowhere to be seen. How do I know that there is no fear and chaos running through these streets? I live here. More specifically, I live in Brescia, Lombardy, which is about an hour north of Milan.

As you may have heard by now, one of the most well-documented and widespread outbreaks of COVID-19 is currently here in Northern Italy. As I write this, Italy has confirmed 7,375 cases and 366 deaths of patients testing positive for the virus. These statistics make Italy the third most impacted country by the virus, following China and South Korea.

So, what does it mean to be in a “red zone?” For the average person living in the “red zones” of Italy, it means schools, non-emergency medical clinics (physiotherapy, chiropractic, etc), libraries, fitness centres, museums, shopping centres, stadiums and all other public venues that host more than a few people at a time are closed indefinitely.

    Travel outside of our regions for any non-emergency or non-work-related purposes is prohibited indefinitely. People must keep a minimum of one metre between themselves at all times. Businesses such as cafés, bars, restaurants, small stores and hair salons, which are still permitted to remain open, must ensure that their customers are at least one metre apart at all times or they could face penalties from local authorities. (This is a brief summary of a 20-page document released to Italians by the federal government late Saturday night.)

It’s easy to understand how this would bring people to panic, however, any Italian will tell you that the disproportionate panic around the virus is harmful and unnecessary. While people clear grocery store shelves of soap and toilet paper in North America “just in case,” Italians go about their everyday lives, continuing to pursue their undying love of friends, family, community and food to guide their decisions. Unlike the panicked response many of us are seeing in North America, Italians conduct their lives with a sense of unparallelled calm and rationale.

The Italians with whom I’m lucky enough to live, study and work, continue to go about their lives as normally as possible, choosing positive attitudes and rationale while paying extra attention to the needs of the more vulnerable people in their lives. Instead of panicking, they’re continuing to go about their lives in good humour, educating themselves on the circumstances and responding appropriately. 

Takeaway: Italians are responding to the situation, not reacting. They are responding to a potential epidemic by ensuring the safety of their fellow Italians. They are not, however, clearing grocery store shelves or allowing their emotions to take over their lives. Children are still playing, buses still running, private workplaces still functioning. Those who cannot remain in their public workplaces continue to work from home. Children continue with their studies online in an organized, routine way. In spite of the abnormality of these circumstances, the people of Northern Italy continue to find ways to care for the vulnerable people in their lives, continue with their work and studies, continue to share meals with loved ones and build a sense of community regardless of the “chaos” going on in the world right now.

I hope that COVID-19 doesn’t touch the lives of Salt Springers or any Canadians as much as it has for us here in Italy. If the time comes, however, for Canadians to face a similar situation, it’s worth learning a thing or two from the positive, proactive, responsive (not reactive) and calm people who call Northern Italy home.

The writer grew up on Salt Spring and is studying languages and teaching English in Brescia, Lombardy, Italy. 

Editor’s note: This piece was submitted to the Driftwood on Monday, March 9. Since then, all of Italy has been subject to red zone restrictions. As of Wednesday morning, the number of confirmed cases was 10,149 and the number of deaths at 631.

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