For more than a month, Italians had heard of the ‘Corona Virus’ in China, having seen the stories on the news about how the Chinese Government was handling the epidemic. This news seemed like something that was from a far off land that could never hit the Italian peninsula because it was the kind of situation that only happened to ‘others’, quite a normal response, much like many other populations responded. Thus, people were slow to put any emergency plans into place. At one point in early January, it was suggested that an Italian manager come up with an emergency plan, but this had not been the first time this manager had been advised that establishing rules to protect people from the normal flu was in order. However, one had to think positively rather than to living in fear of the Corona Virus, which was considered ‘unlikely’ to spread beyond China.
People from all backgrounds, not just Italians, tend to be more favourable of looking at life from a positive point of view; however, planning for the best is sometimes the equivalent of kicking the bucket down the road to someone else. Politicians are now trying to find a solution to help small businesses that are facing difficulties during this trying period, and money is being allocated to help families with children who need to keep a mother or father at home to watch the children whose schools have recently been closed. On the surface, these seem to be the best solutions to problems facing the country, but the long-term effects could potentially bury the nation in outstanding debt, causing difficulties for future generations.
Not only have hugs, kisses, and handshakes been banned. Soccer games open to fans have also been banned for thirty days by the decreet of Giuseppe Conte, the Prime Minister of Italy. This has saddened the majority of Italians, although many argue that even soccer players should have the right to keep their distance from one another. Furthermore, all sports’ events must be held behind closed doors until the third of April, something that remains incredible in the country known for kisses on the cheeks.
COVID-19 has interfered dramatically with the practice of religion, especially the Catholic religion, during February and March 2020. Yesterday, the author visited the Church of Santo Stefano in Borgomanero, where custodians had just cleaned the floors and disinfected the church. Not a living soul was to be found, neither a priest nor a tourist, which allowed the author to focus on the frescoes and the beautiful stained-glass windows in silence. If one travels across Italy this month, he or she will encounter numerous churches without parishioners because people are naturally afraid to meet one another in closed spaces no matter how large and accommodating they might be. It has been recommended that priests remove the holy water from Catholic Churches for fear of spreading the virus. Although citizens and tourists can visit holy shrines, church services have to be conducted via television and internet. Furthermore, churches have been closed because, in recent years, people have begun to steal religious artefacts from them when the churches and shrines are not guarded.
The author has been researching what is happening in the churches throughout Italy; however, there is much more information available about soccer games and the survival of the economy, which seems to be the main focus right now. For instance, in the news one finds much information about saving the reputation of ‘Made in Italy’, so low-level employees are forced to work even harder than before as they hope other countries will continue to demand their products in times of trouble. A company which had had to quit producing medical face masks for fifteen years (due to Chinese competition), suddenly had to reopen its doors to help meet the needs of the Italian population that did not have enough masks to protect citizens from COVID-19.
Not having enough masks was ironic in a country known for its Venetian Carnival celebration. Sadly, Venetian Carnival parades had to be cancelled this year for fear of contagion, causing the country to lose many tourist dollars and initiating the current crisis in Italian tourism. According to Assoturismo, ninety per cent of hotel bookings in Rome have been cancelled, and the United States has issued a level-3 warning to its citizens, stating that they should avoid travel to Italy in March. Travelers who visit Italy are required to stay home for 14 days after returning to the United States. A well-known leader of the Five Star Party was worried that such travel restrictions might lead to discrimination against Italians and ‘Made in Italy’. Many members of La Lega believe in a bailout amounting to 50 billion euros.
Citizens who used to hate watching the news because they generally detest politics are now glued to the TV to see what will happen next, whether or not they should stock up on food and masks, whether or not they will go to work, and who will help them get over the crisis.
On a positive note, unlike most Americans who have to worry about paying much money to be treated for the Corona Virus, Italians know they will not take on a load of personal debt to pay for initial testing and further cures. The Sistema Sanitario Nazionale aims to heal all Italian citizens as well as those who have the appropriate visa to be in the country. Notwithstanding these good intentions, there is the likelihood that the health system will become overburdoned with too many patients to care for during the crisis. For example, in a message written at 12:30 on the third of March, the Piemonte Region announced that simple surgical procedures that utilize the operating rooms have had to be suspended (if they are not urgent procedures) in order to assure that the diffusion of the virus is contained.
On the fourth of March, the Government decreed that all schools and universities would be closed for a month until the fifteenth of March although they are allowed to give lessons online when possible with the goal of stopping the spread of the virus or at least slowing down its spread. Until now, most Italians have been suspicious of online education; therefore, most teachers have not had training in how to convert to the online platform; nor have most students been prepared for this new learning curve. Fortunately, this experience will change the Italian mindset, so that everyone will learn to utilize the internet for learning, telecommuting, and flexitime.
The Decree of the Prime Minister of the Council (DPCM) advises citizens to limit exiting the home if they are over the age of 65, to refrain from shaking hands, to refrain from kissing and hugging, and to avoid visiting family members in hospice or in assisted living. Citizens have been advised not to go directly to the emergency rooms, but that they should dial 112 before going in order to assure they are not positive with the Corona Virus.
The Lombardia Region, having closed the gyms and swimming pools, had also ordered its citizens not to go to the local health clubs. Many citizens living in Lombardia interpreted the orders differently, thus deciding to go to use the sport clubs in the nearby Piemonte Region. Therefore, the Mayor of Novara, one of the cities in Piemonte, had to order that all of the city’s health clubs be closed. Likewise, some people have tried to escape the Red Zones of containment in Lombardia to reach their families elsewhere. One example was that of two public school teachers from the southern town of Irpinia who had been ordered not to leave Codogno, but who returned home to Irpinia near Naples as fast as they could where they were forced to be quarantined with their families, causing the entire condominium to have to be quarantined.
Whether museums should be kept open during the COVID-19 crisis remains a topic for debate amongst art enthusiasts. Museums take in much money while also attracting much-needed tourists from across the globe. Moreover, foreign tourists have to pay the much-needed tourist taxes, known as the tassa di soggiorno, which is going to be missed by the cities of Rome, Florence, and Venice (as well as many other cities) if tourism decreases, not to mention the tickets to museums which are sometimes higher for non-citizens. Italians themselves love to visit museums throughout their country, so they know they will be disappointed if they find museums closed for a month.
The movies, concert halls, and theaters have opened once again, but the Italian TV news has instructed people to leave space between themselves and others. One suggestion is to leave a vacant seat between every two seats, and this should be organized by the owners of the venue when they sell the tickets. According to TV reports, entertainment enthusiasts have been slow to get out once again. Whereas many Italians are not at all afraid of going to the cinema, there has been a humongous decrease in sales as evidenced by empty theaters and concert halls. Over the past weekend (March 1-2, 2020), according to the Associazione Generale Italiana Spettacolo (AGIS), there was a forty-four per cent decrease in ticket sales for various forms of entertainment.
Since Italians love to eat fresh food, they are less prone to stocking up on food for the crisis. While Americans typically stock up on canned vegetables, frozen foods, and food in glass jars, Italians prefer to buy fresh at all times–a great habit, but it might be useful in an emergency to have something with an extended expiration date. According to an Italian shopper, “It was weird that they were buying a lot of eggs and prosciutto.” Italian shoppers focus on purchasing fresh vegetables, fruit, tomatoes, bread, pasta, and rice, the last two of which admittedly have long shelf lives.
Italians approach the COVID-19 crisis in numerous ways: Pro-active Italians help others face this crisis in an organized and dignified manner. They are the city planners who realistically present the crisis. Sergio Mattarella remains calm while giving suggestions about how to be unified as a nation. Counter-active Italians are those who remain stuck and who do not try to change their ways of doing business to meet the needs of the crisis. They are unrealistic and unwilling to sacrifice something to protect their employees, and many of them would like to borrow vast sums of money to solve the tourism, healthcare, and employment crisis. At the same time, some religious Italians (not all) want to put everything into the hands of God without trying to make efforts to avoid getting ill. Others are fatalistic, only seeing a negative outcome, really scared about having to exit the house, obsessive about cleaning everything around them. Those who are in-denial do not even believe in the existence of the dangerous Corona Virus; many of them think it is ‘just the flu’ and they are taking no precautions. Furthermore, others are simply relaxed about it all as they think they must go with the flow. These reactions are common even in other cultures.
One can still see people in the local coffee shops and bars at the time of Aperitif. Having a snack and drink with friends around 12:00 noon or having an Aperi-Cena in the evening is an enjoyable Italian tradition that is still being practised during these times of the COVID-19 crisis. There is going to be a Woman’s Day party on the 8th of March. There should be a good turnout although it will be much smaller than in past years. Maybe many people over the age of 65, who always looked forward to it, will have to stay home this year until the Corona Virus has been conquered. People still have a good sense of humor, pleasant smiles, and the willingness to watch funny Italian TV shows in the evening, and especially I Soliti Ignoti with Amadeo Sebastiani. Italy remains a fun place to be. Mauro Corona, a famous Italian sculptor, author, and Alpinist, still retains his incredible sense of humor even though someone coined his surname, which made him feel like he was “beginning to hate his name.”
Laura Gail Sweeney, Ed.D., is an author, a philosopher, a mentor, and a private English language teacher who has enjoyed making commentaries, creating art and writing for many decades. She has traveled across the world and educated thousands of students from more than 30 countries. She is fascinated by human interaction that is modulated by changes in the economy as well as by the social challenges created by businesses that need to both survive and thrive during the recent period of the COVID-19 crisis. Sweeney thinks that business leaders need to re-examine preparedness for unexpected occurrences such as the flu and epidemics in order to make workplaces safer for their employees and provide the best possible services. Effective communication is the key to facing future challenges effectively.