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Life under Italy’s new lockdown: What’s the difference this time around?’

On Monday, most of Italy went back into the red zone - just over one year since the country’s first lockdown began. Writer Richard Hough in Verona tells us what’s changed.

Life under Italy’s new lockdown: What’s the difference this time around?’
Cafes and restaurants are closed across Italy under new lockdown measures. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Last year, I kept a diary of daily life in Verona, as the first wave of the Covid-19 pandemic ripped through the country. This year, we find ourselves in a startlingly similar situation.

But, although we’re in a zona rossa, this lockdown is nothing like as severe as last time. On Wednesday I ventured out to the market and noticed that our neighbourhood park was busier than normal. It was the same when I passed by Parco Arsenale on Monday.

EXPLAINED: What are the new Italian lockdown rules in your region?

Our quiet residential cul-de-sac is normally used as a car park for the nearby out-patient hospital. I would say it (the car park) is currently operating at about 70% capacity at the moment.

During the lockdown last year, our street was blissfully free of parked cars and the neighbourhood kids reclaimed it as a safe space to play when the lockdown gradually eased. Imagine – playing football on the street!

People in their apartments in Rome in April 2020, during Italy’s strict first lockdown. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Of course, the novelty of Covid and lockdown has long since worn off. We’ve been here before. It’s frustrating to be here again, but we know we can do it. 

We just don’t particularly want to. 

Last March was wild. I cut my hair into a Mohican, we thrashed about the apartment to a soundtrack of 100 great guitar riffs, and we drank with reckless abandon. 

We’ve suffered so much during the last year, and this time around life in lockdown seems much more mundane. There’s no longer that lingering fear of the unknown, that misplaced sense of adventure, of living on the edge. 

School of Dad (or is that D.A.D.)?

The most direct impact of the current lockdown on our family is a return to homeschooling. Until Monday we’d been lucky. Our kids hadn’t missed a single day of school since September. In the circumstances, that was a quite remarkable achievement for all concerned – not least the children themselves.

Second time around, there is a markedly different approach to homeschooling. Last year it was School of Dad (patent application pending). This year it’s D.A.D (Didattica a Distanza). 

Unlike the first lockdown, when the education authorities were woefully unprepared, this time around the schools have hit the ground running. Kids were sent home on Friday with all their materials. Online platforms have been tried, tested and delivered and, with breathtaking efficiency, a timetable was even circulated over the weekend.

Teaching is now teacher-led, which suits me just fine, with between two and five hours of remote learning each day. 

My six-year-old is now coming to terms with some of those crucial lessons that we’ve all grappled with during the last 12 months – most importantly how to mute and unmute his microphone!

Two hours of remote learning is barely a substitute for a day at school with his friends though, and I can see why some of the mums (and it is predominantly mums who are dealing with the childcare) will be taking their demands for schools to be reopened to the town hall in Verona’s Piazza Bra on Saturday. 

SEE ALSO: 19 unforgettable photos from a year of lockdowns in Italy

Parents and children staged sit-in protests in the main squares of cities across Italy this week against the closure of schools under renewed lockdown restrictions. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Old habits and new ideas

This week I’ve reinstated a few of my old habits from the last lockdown. We spend as much time as possible on our balcony, especially in the morning when the sunshine is blissfully warm. I try to do an hour of exercise each day in our subterranean garage. I drag the kids into our communal garden to play with the ball. 

I’m also embracing a few new ideas. Inspired by Italian food blogger Roberto Serra, I’ve decided to make my own limoncello (lemons + alcohol + sugar, if you’re interested). I’ll let you know how that goes!

We’ve also got plenty to look forward to. My son will celebrate his seventh birthday at the end of March. It will be his second birthday in lockdown. As with last year, he approaches the big day with a broad smile (this time missing a few front teeth) and an ambitious list (we’ve had to let him down gently on the Lego Death Star). But he hasn’t once complained about the bizarre situation in which he finds himself. Nor, for that matter, has his big brother, who is at an age (12) at which I would have found it intolerable to be cooped up without my friends. 

READ ALSO: 

Finally, a note on a subject very close to my heart – wine, or, more specifically, VinItaly. This week came the sad but hardly unsurprising news that Verona’s annual wine fair would be cancelled for the second year in a row. 

It’s difficult to overstate how much of a blow this is to a city that prides itself on the quality of its local wine. For a week in early April, the city is literally awash with the stuff. Wine producers come from all over Italy and beyond to present their products to international buyers. 

Italy exports $7.3 billion of the stuff, accounting for just over 20% of global wine exports (only France exports more), and a fair share of that comes from Verona. 

Verona has been hosting its annual wine festival since 1967 and, from modest beginnings, the fair now boasts over 4000 exhibitors from 30 different countries. The cancellation of this landmark event is a major blow to the local wine industry and for the city itself. 

It is with some trepidation that we cast our eye nervously towards the summer opera season. We’ll just have to wait and see.

Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His first book, Notes from Verona, a short collection of diary entries from inside locked down Italy, is available here. He is currently researching his next book about wartime Verona.

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COVID-19 RULES

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”

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