Just weeks ago, Caterina Martini was celebrating the first birthday of her daughter, surrounded by friends and family at a large gathering. Hugs and kisses passed freely from person to person.
Life changed quickly for Martini and her family on March 10, when the Italian government issued a national quarantine to fight the spread of the coronavirus.
Until further notice, she is sharing her home with her closest family members, just outside of Charlottesville’s Italian sister city Poggio a Caiano.
Martini, who visited Charlottesville in 2016 through an exchange organized by the Sister City Commission, says the quarantine is currently in effect until April 3, and that no one in her circle has become infected.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced on March 11 that all bars, restaurants, hairdressers, and nonessential company departments had to close, in a move that is sure to further damage the Italian economy.
“The largest part of us don’t see this as an economic crisis, but as the inevitable consequence of a necessary safety measure,” says Martini. “We are all concentrated on the virus and on the prevention of it, so we do what we have to, to survive—literally.”
At the time of her email to us, she reported that citizens in her region of Tuscany (where there are currently about 40 reported cases of coronavirus) have “permission to go to the supermarket and to drugstores, but we have to follow some rules, like use a surgical mask and gloves to protect us, enter just two or three at a time in the stores and stay almost a meter away from other people.”
Martini also says that in order to travel long distances within the country, or to visit a neighbor or family member, Italians need a special certificate to prove that the trip is necessary.
Public offices are open, operating by appointment, and taking the same types of precautions. As for those who need parts for their Vespa or a new pasta sieve? “We can still have almost everything delivered (Amazon is working a lot), and the trash is still handled regularly,” says Martini.
President Donald Trump’s initial denial of the magnitude of this health crisis (instead focusing on financial mitigation, which had little effect on the stock market) has led to many U.S. citizens feeling vulnerable, as Americans face a lack of resources including test kits (it’s been reported that the state of Virginia has less than 700 available). Italy too was late in recognizing the pace and impact of the outbreak, and quickly became Europe’s coronavirus epicenter.
Christian Althaus, who models infectious diseases at the University of Bern in Switzerland told The Guardian: “You can argue they [Italy] noticed it late, but that could have happened elsewhere too. Once they realised what was happening, I think they took it seriously. The first lockdown was the right choice, and expanding it nationwide probably too. They realise they need to curb the epidemic.”
Martini does not deny the economic peril, but says Italians will weather it together. “The quarantine, for the economy, is disastrous, but as we usually say in Italy, ‘We are all on the same boat,’” she says. “So we hang on, and we use this as an opportunity to stay with our families, at home, doing the things that usual life doesn’t permit us to do.” It’s a sentiment that could certainly ring true on our side of the globe in the weeks to come.
Tami Keaveny is a member of the Charlottesville Sister City Commission.