Ristretto coffee, cooped up inside - that is not dolce vitaNadia Ilieva
As world experts seek to explain the coronavirus disaster in Italy, so far unsuccessfully, Italians are getting used to living under lockdown measures, something foreign to a southern nation that has given the world la dolce vita.
Days in large metropolises and small towns alike begin differently now - without a cup of ristretto and a piece of brioche on the side at the nearby bar, confectioner's shop or at the railway station just before one heads to work. Today, Italians leave their homes with the mandatory declaration of the purpose of their outing tucked inside their backpack or handbag. The document can be filled in advance or in front of the Carabinieri, if you happen to be stopped for an inspection, which occurs with increasing frequency. The end of the workday also comes without the locals' favourite ritual - a glass of Prosecco or Aperol at the local bar, where they can chat about hot topics with neighbours or colleagues before going home. Working Italians are now deprived of the pleasure of their traditional afternoon aperitivo, or a pre-meal drink - the bars and the cafes are closed. This pleasant form of socialising is also forbidden for pensioners, who have always found an excuse to go out in that exact hour to mingle with young people over a small glass of wine, which even in Venice can be found for €1.
Yet another restrictive measure is disrupting the normal rhythm of life in Italy - authorities are making efforts to ban strolling in the park and cycling, which are ingrained in the culture of both Italians and French. These small outdoor pleasures have also been deemed risky because of the potential for a fall during a jog or a bicycle ride, which would require a visit to the hospital in a time when many hospitals are overwhelmed with coronavirus patients. There are not enough medical professionals or time to be spared for putting someone's limb in a cast or bandaging it. One explanation as to why so many coronavirus patients in Italy die is that hospital beds, especially ones equipped with breathing machines, are not enough to meet the needs. There is also a shortage of doctors, nurses and orderlies.
Explaining the record death toll in Italy with the ageing population would probably not hold up to a comparative analysis. Other European countries affected by the pandemic also have demographic problems but do not report the same death rates.
It is likely that the Italians were late to react in the first hours and days of the coronavirus threat and overlooked the strong presence of Chinese citizens in the country - those working in Italy and tourists. There are over 50,000 Chinese factories registered in Italy, while entire neighbourhoods in Milan and other cities are populated exclusively by Chinese. These people visit their home country, which contributed to the virus travelling to Europe with Italy as its first stop. And let us not forget Chinese tourists, who traditionally favour Venice as a destination.
The coronavirus figures in this EU Member State are truly staggering and have already surpassed those in China. But the statistics should be interpreted with a critical eye. According to data provided by the website italiaora.org, 325 people in Italy died of cancer on 20 March alone until 18:00 Italian time, while 709 were diagnosed with the same disease. This is in the span of one day, the same disease. No one is talking about how many people lose their lives in car crashes and drug overdose incidents these days. There is no state of emergency being declared in that regard, no measures, even though most victims of such cases are young people.
We will have to wait for scientists to do their research, but it is clear that the levels of air pollution in various areas of Italy is close to that in the Chinese city of Wuhan, from where Covid-19 is believed to originate. It is no coincidence that in their wish to escape from the new virus, many Italians sought refuge on the islands and the seacoast, where the air is thought to be cleaner. The island of Elba, for example, was quickly overrun by people and is no longer the dream vacation destination.
A team of infectious diseases and computer experts at the University of Genoa has drawn up a model that predicts the evolution of Covid-19 with an acceptable margin of error. The model shows that in terms of new daily infections, the cases in Italy will peak between 23 and 25 March, after which the curve is expected to go down.
Only after the normal rhythm of life is restored and tourists return to Piazza San Marco will Italy be able to heave a sigh of relief. The scars of losing loved ones will not fade easily, but the hope is that the coronavirus disaster will produce valuable lessons. Yes, Italy was caught unprepared, but so was the rest of the world.