‘People fear me as much as I fear them’: The reality of life under lockdown

Living with coronavirus: Irish Times readers in Italy on the challenges we now also face

Ireland is taking measures to combat spread of coronavirus disease, also known as Covid-19, announcing shutdowns today, but Italy has been worst hit by the disease in Europe so far. Earlier this week Italy went into lockdown, and it has now shut all shops except for food shops, pharmacies and stores selling other essential items. More than 800 people in Italy have died from the virus, and about 12,000 are infected. Essential public services such as transport, agriculture and banking continue.

We asked Irish people living in Italy what life has been like living in a lockdown. Here’s a selection of the many responses we received.

Frances Fahy: ‘If the virus doesn’t kill me, isolation and fear will’

I live in Calabria, southern Italy where we're in lockdown. There have been relatively few cases here. I knew in theory that the nature of a virus is to invade host organisms, infect, multiply, mutate and die. Now I understand it. We're in a kind of hypnotic state. We'd like not to go on about it and not be glued to phone and television, but it's exactly what we're doing. Physical contact is so limited that even necessary contact is strained. People fear me as much as I fear them. Self-isolation is not easy. As an elderly man put it on Facebook this morning: "If the virus doesn't kill me, isolation and fear will." There is a massive effort by the hospitals on the frontline. Police and community workers are doing their utmost. Non-essential workplaces are closed. People are obeying instructions. We watch, helplessly, as the virus starts to impact the economy. We hope special measures are in place. The worst part is the uncertainty. As yet, no light at the end of the tunnel. However, history tells us: "This too will pass." I must believe I'll be on that flight to Ireland that I've booked for May 8th.

Eva Griffiths, Verona: ‘I’m terrified of becoming ill and ending up in hospital’

I've had a cold and have been worried witless. We should've had the lockdown weeks ago, I feel many didn't take enough precautions. Schools were closed but not private gyms and clubs, and other places. Perhaps, we didn't take it seriously enough. I would urge everyone at home to start social distancing. We are, honestly, quite content at home. Thank God for Netflix, YouTube and online newspapers like your own. I must say we long to read something that isn't coronavirus statistics. There's no food shortage and there's plenty of toilet paper. We walk the dog and keep our distance but smiling back at people passing by. There are groups of people shopping for the elderly and dropping it off on their doorsteps. My 11-year-old was thrilled to be off school until the homework started pouring in. Homeschooling is proving difficult. I must confess that I'm terrified of becoming ill and ending up in hospital, even though I have utmost trust in Italian health care. We wonder will the intensive care be full. Will they be able to cope if the numbers go up? Compounded with those fears are worries about our livelihood. My husband has closed his leather goods shop. I have cancelled all my English lessons, some have agreed to do lessons online. My 20-year-old son is a musician so he has been out of work for nearly a month now since all gigs were cancelled. The impact on small business and tourism is disastrous but we all agree if we make an effort now we can get through this sooner rather than later.


Anna Finn: ‘Life is almost as if we’re living in a post-apocalyptic world’

Life here in Italy has taken on a surreal quality almost as if we’re living in a post-apocalyptic world. The silence outside my home is eerily palpable. I live on my own, my children are grown up and have left Italy, and work as an English teacher in central Italy. Schools were closed last week and we have been in complete lockdown mode since Tuesday morning. What this means in practical terms is that I cannot leave my home except to do essential food shopping in my village. As we only have about 1200 inhabitants, there is one butcher’s, one green grocer’s and one corner store. I went shopping yesterday and encountered only a handful of people, all respectfully adhering to the one metre distance rule. My colleagues and I are trying to hold online classroom sessions for our students, but I have to say it is proving difficult due to the sheer volume of internet traffic. Italy, sadly, has not quite made it into the 21st century in terms of the quality of internet available here.

Shane Grant: ‘There is veil of sadness and anxiety over city’

As an Irish guy living in Rome, life as I know it has completely changed (This is not a cliché). This is affecting everybody. There is veil of sadness and anxiety over city, in the centre, and out here in the suburbs. Every generation has had a major event that has impacted on their lives, first and second World War, Gulf War, 9/11 ... at the age of 37 in 2020, this is my generation’s event. We’re under curfew at 6pm, there is nothing left open. The streets are eerily quiet, everything is unusual, there’re no “best” parts to this. I attempted three times in the past 24 hours to enter a supermarket but the queues were too long and I couldn’t wait as I had to be home to teach via webcam. I’m a teacher and a vice principal, and we’re trying to make life as normal as possible for the young people who look to us to protect their future. Regions here are asking for more strict measures because at current levels. This my generation’s call to war, to instil once again a sense of collective responsibility and how my actions affect every single person with whom I come into contact. The mood - my mood, Italy’s mood - is very sombre, we all need to make sacrifices for the common good

Louise Mannion: ‘People are very afraid but there’s huge solidarity’

In Forli, literally overnight, when the first cases were discovered in Lombardy, chemists and supermarkets started rapidly selling out of antibacterial gel. Masks were like gold-dust. Schools and universities closed. Then in Forli, Covid-19 slowly started closing in on us too. Lots of people, including me, were of the belief it was "just a flu" and weren't afraid. I was due to fly home with my husband for the Italy versus Ireland Rugby match. There weren't any flight cancellations at that time but my elderly parents didn't want to risk getting infected so we cancelled our trip. The death toll from the virus here is currently 827. We can no longer think this is a normal flu. We are now in total shutdown phase. Hospitals are at full stretch. Supermarkets and chemists are open, but shops, bars and restaurants are closed. Should we go outside the house by car, we need a certificate from the department of public safety saying where and why we are travelling. As of yesterday, we need it even if we go for a walk. We are adapting to our "new" life, and now I work mostly online teaching and translating. Honestly, it's surreal. Luckily, we and everyone we know are fine. Even though people are now very afraid, there's a huge solidarity and people are simply getting on with it. I'm worried about my family in Ireland because the virus is likely to get worse there too.

Bronagh Slevin: ‘A man in his late 60s stepped off the pavement rather than pass me directly’

Since the national lockdown on Monday the mood has changed. So far in and around Milazzo, there has not been any police presence. I have never known Sicilians to be so observant of the law. People queue one metre apart in pharmacies and supermarkets. Larger supermarkets are operating a controlled access policy, allowing only small groups to enter at a time. I'm having to homeschool my five - year- old daughter and nine-year-old son, which sounds ideal, but the reality is that it's no fun for anyone. I teach English, and will now operate online courses for private students and secondary school classes. We're lucky to live in a beautiful place by the sea so I'm taking my children for walks - we've been picking asparagus at the cape, rock-climbing in secret coves and exploring the lighthouse. People are out walking along the beach now at all times of day. On the downside, it's prohibited to meet up in friends' or relatives' houses, so one example of things we're missing out on is a birthday party this evening. I'm a musician, and my Saturday night gig was cancelled. We couldn't celebrate International Women's Day on March 8th with a drumming circle, as planned. Italy has an aging population, and it is the older people who are feeling most vulnerable. A man in his late 60s gave me a wide berth today, stepping off the pavement rather than pass me directly. I've been living in Milazzo for 10 years with my family. I teach languages, write and play cello with Sicilian folk bands. Hopefully, by the summer, we'll be able to get back to Ireland for the annual family holiday.

Lisa Kelleher: ‘Juggling being a working professional and a mother at home in this environment is a challenge’

Life in Italy has changed since the lockdown, but not in the way that I would have initially expected. I find that it has given me and my family a little more certainty and security than we had in the past few weeks, where things were changing day by day. We know that we have to stay at home for the next three weeks at least, so we are working to create a different way of working from home while simultaneously minding and occupying our children. I am a middle school teacher here in Turin, so I and my colleagues put every effort in place to create virtual classrooms for our students, structured their lesson plans from home to try and normalise the next few weeks for them, in as much as possible. Through this experience, both teachers and students are improving and optimising their technical skills and really working together to build an alternative way of learning for children. However, juggling being a working professional and a mother at home in this environment is a challenge, but as everybody is experiencing the same thing, there is great understanding and empathy between colleagues and parents. If I could share something from my experience here, it would be to shut down the crèches, schools and universities in Ireland today and give parents the reassurance that the exposure to the coronavirus for their children is limited and reasonably within their control. Flights were suspended early this week from Northern Italy to Ireland and it did create a moment of anxiousness, as I feared that if something happened at home, I would not be able to return. Hopefully, this is a temporary situation and normal life will resume as soon as possible. I did intend to return to Ireland for my mother’s birthday (a special birthday) but I will make it up to her as soon as I can. There are a few people in public places but people are keeping a significant distance away from each other. In general, the traffic, number of people on the streets has greatly reduced. We haven’t noticed police involvement for two reasons, we live in the city centre and as I understand police involvement is more at entry and exit points to towns and cities, and also we’re simply not going beyond our direct neighbourhood in terms of groceries or walking. I’m finding self- isolation to be ok. I am so busy trying to work from home and maintain and entertain two very small children that I don’t have a moment to think about boredom. What is challenging probably is the repetitive routine and not being able to bring children to the playground, visit family or friends. I’m trying not to panic and be rational about the coronavirus, and take every preventative precaution, I am a little fearful that if I or my children get it, will there be an immediate medical response, as the hospitals here in Italy are already becoming overwhelmed.

Allison Colton: ‘Reports from hospitals are really worrying me’

I’ll admit it, I started off as one of the “sure it’s just a bad flu” brigade, but in the past two weeks everything has changed. Although I find myself glued to the news and the papers, what’s really worrying me is the reports we’re getting from friends and family working in the hospitals. The situation is harrowing. Operating theatres are being turned into intensive care units, staff are working 14 hour days, many aren’t going home between shifts to avoid contagion, some of them have started to get sick and at this stage, many hospitals here in the north are having to choose who gets treatment, and who doesn’t based on age and pre-existing medical conditions. The government has called retired doctors and nurses back into service, and some working abroad with charities have been asked to come home. The authorities have been asking the public to avoid unneccesary social contact, to keep clear of crowded places for the past two weeks. Although a large part of the population adhered to these requests on Saturday the ski slopes were packed, many shopping districts resembled a regular Saturday, lots of pubs and bars in Milan and other towns were heaving and there was a total disregard for the recommendations. They only option that the authorities had was to impose this lockdown. I think they’re going to have to become stricter. My husband and I are lucky, we can work from home, we’re out in the countryside so we can get some fresh air without getting close other people, and statistically we’re unlikely to have serious implications from the virus but that does’t make us immune and moreover if we disregard the rules we could be inadvertently infecting other people. The way I look at it is the nurses, doctors and emergency staff are making immense sacrifices to save as many people as possible, the least we can do is stay home for awhile.

Laurence Fogarty: ‘Not even immediate family members can go to the funeral of a loved one’

Where I live close to Milan became a "red zone" as of last Saturday. That means that, for example, weddings and funerals are prohibited as they are naturally gatherings of people. Which in practice means not even immediate family members can go to the funeral of a loved one, let alone relatives from outside the country. Now the prime minister has put the whole country into an "orange zone" less severe than red, but you still need to certify yourself as disease-free to the police if you are travelling anywhere, and also justify why you are travelling. The gatherings of people are prohibited everywhere it seems, bars and cafes shut after 6pm. It is becoming surreal, seeing the Central Station in Milan with no one around, the Milan Navigli (canal) area, which is the nightlife hub in many ways, now completely deserted. What I wonder is how much people in other countries are actually aware of the situation in Italy. Schools and universities have been closed already for two weeks, and this will continue until April 3rd. One thing for certain: this is not an Italian-specific virus, and it spreads like wildfire. The government has put these measures into force in order to protect the health system and the population.

Caoimhe Speakman: ‘Ireland should close its borders’

If I were the Irish government I would be closing the borders. It might have an impact on the economy but lockdown is more expensive and way more hassle.