On Wednesday the 11th of March 2020, the Italian government announced that the country was going into lockdown in order to prevent the spread of Covid-19. 11 days later, on the 22nd of March, further regional restrictive measures were introduced here in Lombardia which prohibited citizens from being outdoors for any “non-essential” reason, including solitary exercise.
As I write to you now, 53 days after lockdown was first introduced and over 5 weeks since my last run outside, it is with great excitement but also scepticism that I look forward to tomorrow, Monday the 4th of May, where Italy moves into “phase 2” of its Covid-19 response. From tomorrow in Milan; the parks will be open, people will be able to go out for solitary exercise and some people will return to work, specifically those in the manufacturing or infrastructure industry.
Moreover, given the anxiety caused by separation for many Italian families, the government has permitted family visits within the same region while respecting social distancing measures. I hope for many families here, who have been separated due to the pandemic, the eased lockdown will provide them with a beacon of light as they can be reunited with loved ones. I too am certainly relishing the opportunity to get outside and exercise. However, both on a personal and societal level there is an air of apprehension about what may happen, given the omnipresent threat of the Covid-19.
There will be a bitter-sweet taste tomorrow as I and many others, head outside for the first time in a while. Since the start of February when the first cases arrived in Italy, the hardship faced by many and the suffering for those who have lost loved ones has been significant. Having lived here as a foreigner and seen it first hand for the last 3 months, it is safe to say I now have a resounding sympathy for the Italian people and the adversity they have faced. It is with the memory of the last 8 weeks of isolation upon which our new society and perspective should be based.
The goal of returning to “normal life” is still a long way off in Italy and for many parts of Europe. In Italy, for example, tomorrow is step one of a staggered process of reintroduction with other dates for businesses to open set for the 18th of May, before restaurants and bars resuming service on the 1st of June. These dates, of course, are provisional and they hugely depend on how the next couple of weeks are and whether people conduct themselves responsibly preventing a second influx of Covid-19 cases.
Social responsibility can no longer be something we work towards or a long-term goal, it is now a pragmatic necessity. Too many people have been adversely affected for others not to honour their hardship by changing our outlook on society. Governments across the world use the collective term “social responsibility” but if there is one thing this lockdown period has taught me it’s that we should focus on making change on a personal level.
Economically, I have reevaluated what’s important and what roles are fundamentally indispensable. Before the pandemic, I never truly appreciated roles such as; shelf stackers, delivery drivers and cashiers, and their efforts to keep supermarkets open and food available to the masses have been heroic. Individually, we can make changes; commit to being more hygienic and rigorous with washing our hands, be more grateful for key workers and appreciate the fortitude of those who work in national health systems – to name a few.
Being a better person will contribute to a better society.
In England, before Covid-19, it was only in a personal or family emergency that the incredible work of the NHS was appreciated. Now that the whole country faces a national health emergency, the courage and strength of the NHS and its workers is clear as day to everyone. When the dust settles on Covid-19, we must implement new social conforms, being more socially responsible and not settling back into a world where so many essential roles are under appreciated and undervalued.
Moreover, on more a personal level, the hardship and struggle of many keyworkers or those who have lost their lives will govern my new perspective on our society. However, in years to come I will also look back on this period as an extremely positive one. Due to the lockdown, our family connectivity has gone up enormously and we are now speaking every Sunday for an hour on Zoom as a big group of extended relatives from all over the world. Given the simplicity in organising it and
enjoyment we get out of catching up for an hour a week, it of course begs the question why it took a hugely disruptive, deadly virus to profit from the technologies already available to us.
It is something I am sure will continue long after Covid-19 has disappeared. Moreover, doing virtual workouts with friends, joining an online yoga class and of course the inevitable virtual pub quizzes on a Friday night, a lasting memory from this period will be the sense of community created, as everyone shares experiences and insights into ways they are coping.
Finally, the spontaneous kindness, volunteering at foodbanks and incredible fundraising of people such as Captain Tom cannot and will not be forgotten. During the lockdown, we have seen huge swathes of society humbled by the selfless work
of others and consequently raising an incredible amount of money through charity initiatives.
The last message, therefore, is of course a positive one. There is no longer a question of “how bad is it going to get” as many countries are turning the tide on the pandemic, leaving the peak of the virus in their wake and coming up with plans to reopen parts of society, albeit slowly. As demonstrated here, Italy is living proof that the restrictions imposed have worked; for a week at the end of March the daily cases were more than 5000 and now they are lower than 2000. It is with this knowledge and confidence in the system that we can’t lose patience with the restrictive measures. The goal remains the same: To eradicate Covid-19. The more the rules are obeyed, the fewer lives will be lost and the sooner we can begin our new society.
Image Credit: Renaud Camus via Flickr