Life under lockdown: How life in Italy has changed in just three weeks

Life under lockdown: How life in Italy has changed in just three weeks
A woman in Milan, inside Italy's extended coronavirus restricted zone. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP
The coronavirus outbreak and efforts to contain it mean unprecedented restrictions for millions of people living in Italy. Rachael Martin, a writer based in Milan in the hardest-hit region of Lombardy, shares how her life has changed in the past three weeks.

The first case of COVID-19 was diagnosed in Codogno, Lombardy, on Friday, February 21st.

By Saturday afternoon, around fifty cases were being registered. On Sunday morning news came through that the Lombardy government was planning to close the schools. On Sunday evening I was at my local supermarket looking at half-empty aisles.

READ ALSO: The everyday coronavirus precautions to take if you're in Italy

Monday arrived, and the kids didn’t go back to school. Homework was sent through via the electronic register.

Bars, discos and any other place used for public entertainment had to close between 6pm and 6am. Sports and youth clubs were suspended. Public or private gatherings were no longer allowed.

Mass was cancelled in cities, towns and villages where not only faith but the parish plays a huge part in people’s lives.

Parents were struggling to cope with childcare, also because the grandparents who generally look after the children are those who need to take the greatest precautions. Some mothers started working from home, other parents tried to synchronize shifts, or worked late into the evening. 

I work at home anyway, so at the beginning life felt somewhat like unexpected, chaotic summer holidays, only without the summer. “Well, nothing’s changed for you anyway,” my son barked at me one day. Maybe, but you can still get off the PlayStation.

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We all live our own realities. For some, life hadn’t changed that much. People were still meeting, and following the guidelines of hand washing and saying hello without kissing.

Amidst the increasing figures of cases and the struggles that the health system is facing, social media was also filled with positivity. There were posts to update friends and relatives abroad that told of gardening, walks and catching up on spring cleaning.

The economic fallout was already being felt, for some more severely than others. Isabella Ranieri, 49, is a conference interpreter. “We deal with international events so we have all had our jobs cancelled from now until at least May,” she says.

“There are no measures for the government to help us and we’ll have tax bills that we won’t know how to pay. This is on top of the fact that work is seasonal, and so some of us haven’t been working for several months anyway.”

Then on Saturday evening, information about the new decree broke. Lombardy and 14 other provinces across northern Italy would be put on lockdown.

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new quarantine measures in northern Italy

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Friends gathered on social media watching it unfold, waiting to know if it had actually been signed. People rushed to Milan’s Central Station to get on trains to go south.

As part of the international community here, we all felt it. We were going to be on lockdown? So that meant we couldn’t leave? For some it mattered more than others.

Yesterday in Lecco on Lake Como, the streets were much quieter than they would usually have been on a beautiful Sunday. The squares, usually filled with people sitting outside at tables for the aperitivo hour, were pretty much empty. There were a few people, mainly families, younger people, and kids walking by the lake.

There was a noticeable absence of older people, apart from one elderly gentleman sitting on a bench alone. Loneliness amongst the elderly is difficult in the best of times. Loneliness during the times of the coronavirus could be crippling.

READ ALSO: 'Cancelling mass is unprecedented': Coronavirus fears take mental toll in Italy


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Today it’s gradually becoming clearer what actual lockdown means. People are required to self-certify or provide certification if they need to move around. Police are controlling movement in and out of cities.

Bars and restaurants are again only open until 6pm, but tables have to be placed at one metre’s distance from the other. Supermarkets are controlling the number of people who enter at one time. Ski stations have been closed.

Hashtags #iostoacasa and #iorestoacasa ('I’m staying at home') are being used to encourage people to just stay at home now. The priest in our village sent the kids a message to encourage awareness of the situation we’re living, and the fact that how we behave now will have its effect on the future.

If ever there were a time for small communities to come together, it is now. This morning I went to pick up some of my kids’ belongings from a friend. We stood a metre apart, chatted a bit, and then said goodbye. I got back in my car, feeling the change.

Life can change so quickly in the space of not yet a month. 

Rachael Martin is a freelance writer based in Milan. Find more of her work via her website.


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