The music may have been different, but the meaning was the same.
From North to South, Italians have been gathering on their balconies singing songs celebrating the spirit of their towns and their country during their most trying week yet since COVID-19 hit Italian shores.
“We are learning that if we are united, we can defeat this,” said Giorgia Montella, a tour guide from Salerno, Campania. “We are a loving people. We love others. What’s getting me through this is that one day, hopefully soon, I will be able to hug my friends again.”
This past week, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte placed the entire country in lock down as a way to contain COVID-19. This measure affects approximately 60 million people and provides sanctions of up to three months in prison for those who violate the decree. Italians are allowed to leave their homes only for emergencies or for proven working needs, which must be pre-approved. All gyms, swimming pools, spas and wellness centers are closed. Those needing essential items are allowed to go to the grocery store or pharmacy, but are only allowed in one at a time. All civil and religious ceremonies, including funerals, have been suspended, as have been all organized events.
Conte’s measures have been described as the largest lockdown in European history as well as the most aggressive response to COVID-19 taken in any region beyond China. To date, there are 17,660 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Italy, with 1,266 deaths, and 1,439 recoveries, leaving 14,955 active cases.
Montella explained that, as a tour guide, her busy season begins in late March. As a result of COVID-19, tourists are cancelling their reservations with her for the foreseeable future. Now, due to restrictions placed on American travel to Europe by the United States, she’s not sure if her business will survive.
“It’s chaos over here,” she said. “Our economy is at its knees and this all feels like a bad dream. We’re all afraid of getting sick, too. We don’t know what the future will bring.”
Like many schools throughout the United States, Italian schools are moving to online learning. According to Flavia Varbaro, a teacher in Reggio Calabria, this move brings problems of its own.
“We’re following the rules our government has put in place because we’re afraid of the virus and what it can do,” she said. “My school has asked us to teach from home and hold classes remotely, but, unfortunately, not every student has the right equipment or technology to make the switch to online learning. It’s a very trying time.”
In Lombardia, the epicenter of COVID-19’s spread across Italy, the mood is uncertain, as Paul Pontecorvo, an Italian American who now lives in Milan, explained.
“There’s an economic uncertainty because the Italian workforce isn’t used to working from home,” he said. “The virus is dictating a very different kind of life right now.”
“This will most certainly knock Italy into a recession,” he continued. “The medical system is so taxed that they are having to triage people based on their chances of survival. There’s a non-preparedness for what’s going on, because they never expected it.”
What is most different in Italy is just how quiet things have become and how Italians are now adjusting to their temporary “new normal.”
“The silence is deafening,” said Egea Caruso of Rome. “You’re truly breathing another air right now. But, in all of us, there’s a hope that Italy will come out of this nightmare stronger than ever. We will be a new nation. We will have a stronger belief in ourselves and we will be even more determined to move forward.”