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HEALTH

‘You can feel the anxiety in the air’: 15 million Italians get to grips with quarantine

The sun shone on deserted squares in Milan and empty gondolas in Venice as a quarter of Italy's population came to grips with being cut off from the rest of the country, under new rules strictly limiting movement in and out of the new red zone.

'You can feel the anxiety in the air': 15 million Italians get to grips with quarantine
Empty tables in the Galleria Vittorio Emanuele in Milan, part of Italy's extended lockdown zone. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

While some packed their bags and fled, most in northern Italy stayed to brave a lockdown imposed by the government on some 15 million people, as it ramps up the fight against the deadly coronavirus.

The country on Sunday recorded the second-highest coronavirus toll in the world, after reporting a sharp jump in deaths — from 133 to 366 — and overtaking South Korea on infections.

Italy's interior ministry said anyone flouting the lockdown risked at least three months in jail or a €206 fine.

Only people with a “serious” reason that cannot be postponed, such as urgent work or family issues, will be allowed in or out of the quarantine zones, which cover Lombardy and 14 provinces in four other regions.

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

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Passengers departing on flights in the lockdown areas will need to justify themselves — apart from people who had been in the area temporarily, who are allowed to return home. All arrivals will need to justify their travel.

Police will be setting up controls at train stations to check people's temperatures, and stopping all cars on main roads in and out to verify the reason for travel, the ministry said in a statement.

Cruise ships will be forbidden from docking in Venice, with only passengers who are residents of the Renaissance city allowed to disembark.

Alitalia suspended national and international flights to and from Milan Malpensa airport, and announced it was operating only domestic routes from Milan Linate.

The borders with Austria, Switzerland and Slovenia remain open.

READ ALSO: 

Pina Antinucci, a psychoanalyst in her 60s who lives in Milan, told AFP she was suffering nightmares and felt the state was “bombarding us with anxieties, spreading paranoia”.

“I'd like to know if I'm infected… it would be better to know if I have that unwanted guest who occupies our homes, minds and lives,” she said.

With 366 fatalities, Italy has recorded the most deaths from the COVID-19 disease of any country outside China, where the outbreak began in December.

The new rules came shortly after the news that the number of people infected had jumped by over 1,200 in a 24-hour period.

The plan was leaked to the media on Saturday, infuriating Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, who slammed it as “unacceptable”, saying it had created “uncertainty, anxiety, [and] confusion”.

People load up on groceries in Milan. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Expert Massimo Galli, the head of a team of doctors from the Biomedical Research Institute in Milan who managed to identify the Italian strain last month, told AFP it had been a “disastrous communication error” and “absolute idiocracy”.

Italian virologist Roberto Burioni described the leak on Twitter as “pure madness”.

“The draft of a very harsh decree is leaked, sparking panic and prompting people to try and flee the [then] theoretical red zone, carrying the virus with them,” he said on social media.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: 'Italy is notorious for disorganization, but this time it’s bested the US'

Vincenzo Tosetti, a 34-year old actor and Venice resident, told AFP “many people I know have fled, mainly from Milan.

“This is going to test the Italians' ability to behave responsibly, and I have to say that up until now they've been failing. There's been an exodus.”

Fellow Venetian Giancarlo, 49, who did not want to give his last name, said: “You can feel the anxiety in the air.” The floating city was also virtually empty of tourists, which was “a big blow”.

“First the city was hit by record floods, now this. Venice is very fragile right now,” he said.

OPINION: After flooding and coronavirus, is it time Venice stopped relying on tourism?


Photo: Andrea Pattaro/AFP

Italy has found itself at the forefront of the global fight against the virus, with more than 5,800 infections recorded in the past seven weeks.

The virus has now spread to all 22 Italian regions, and the first deaths are being recorded in Italy's less well medically equipped south.

The head of the Puglia region in southern Italy pleaded with anyone thinking of returning from Lombardy and the other 11 provinces in lockdown — which include the cities of Parma and Rimini — to “stop and turn around”.

“Get off [the train] at the first station, don't get on the flights to Bari and Brindisi, turn your cars around, get off the bus at the next stop. Don't bring the epidemic to Puglia,” he said on Facebook.

“You are carrying to the lungs of your brothers and sisters, grandparents, uncles, cousins and parents the virus that has severely strained the health system in northern Italy,” he said.

Remember:

According to the WHO, around 80 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment.

Around one out of every six people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness.

Find all The Local's coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here

Member comments

  1. Hi, I really do wish you would get your figures accurate.
    The death toll rose by 133 yesterday to its new level..NOT FROM 133…thanks

  2. Also as far as I am aware Italy has 20 regions and not 22! Thanks for your attention to detail going forward.

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COVID-19 RULES

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

The new Italian government has announced the end of some remaining Covid health measures. Here's a look at what will - and won't - change.

Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Few Covid-related restrictions remain in Italy today, six months after the nationwide ‘state of emergency’ ended.

The previous government had kept only a handful of precautionary measures in place – which the new government, led by Giorgia Meloni, must now decide whether or not to keep.

The cabinet is holding a meeting on Monday and will issue a decree this week detailing any changes to the health measures.

Many expect the government to scrap all measures entirely by the end of the year, after Meloni and her party criticised the way Mario Draghi’s administration handled the pandemic throughout its tenure. 

Meloni clearly stated in her first address to parliament last Tuesday that “we will not replicate the model of the previous government” when it comes to managing Covid.

READ ALSO: Five key points from Meloni’s first speech as new Italian PM

While she acknowledged that Italy could be hit by another Covid wave, or another pandemic, she did not say how her government would deal with it.

Meanwhile, new health minister Orazio Schillaci issued a statement on Friday confirming the end of several existing measures, saying he “considers it appropriate to initiate a progressive return to normality in activities and behaviour”.

Workplace ban for unvaccinated medical staff

Schillaci confirmed that the ministry will allow doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work after being suspended because they refuse to get vaccinated against Covid-19.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

They will be allowed to return “in light of the worrying shortage of medical and health personnel” and “considering the trend of Covid infections”, the statement said.

Fines issued to healthcare staff aged over 50 who refused vaccination would also be cancelled, it added.

There were some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Daily Covid data reports

Schillaci also confirmed in the statement that the health ministry will no longer release daily updates on Covid-19 contagion rates, hospital cases and deaths, saying this would be replaced by a weekly update.

It said it would however make the data available at any time to relevant authorities.

Mask requirement in hospitals to stay?

The requirement to wear face masks in hospitals, care homes and other healthcare facilities expires on Monday, October 31st.

At a meeting on the same day the government is expected to decide whether to extend the measure.

READ ALSO: What can we expect from Italy’s new government?

While the government had looked at scrapping the requirement, it reportedly changed stance at the last minute on Monday after facing heavy criticism from health experts.

Media reports published while the meeting was in progress on Monday said government sources had indicated the measure would in fact be extended.

Confirmation is expected to come later on Monday.

Italy’s face mask rules in care homes and healthcare facilities are up for renewal. Photo by Thierry ZOCCOLAN / AFP

‘Green pass’ health certificate

There is no indication that the new government plans to bring back any requirements to show a ‘green pass’: the digital certificate proving vaccination against or recent recovery from Covid, or a negative test result.

The pass is currently only required for entry to healthcare facilities and care homes, and this is expected to remain the case.

‘Dismantling the measures’

Some of the confirmed changes were strongly criticised by Italy’s most prominent healthcare experts.

Head of the Gimbe association for evidence-based medicine, Nino Cartabellotta, said the focus on cancelling fines for unvaccinated healthcare workers was “irrelevant from a health point of view .. but unscientific and highly diseducative”.

He told news agency Ansa it was “absolutely legitimate” for a new government to discontinue the previous administration’s measures, but that this “must also be used to improve everything that the previous government was unable to do”.

The government should prioritise “more analytical collection of data on hospitalised patients, investments in ventilation systems for enclosed rooms … accelerating coverage with vaccine boosters,” he said.

However, the plan at the moment appeared to be “a mere dismantling of the measures in place,” he said, “in the illusory attempt to consign the pandemic to oblivion, ignoring the recommendations of the international public health authorities”.

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