More than 60 million Italians are living under an unbearable lockdown that is growing tighter daily.
The stores that remain open are closing earlier and cops are patrolling in larger numbers, chasing families out for walks back into their homes and making sure that no one is outside without a valid reason.
The highest number of cases is in the north of the country, where the dead are being stacked up to be buried as funeral services are not allowed. However, the living are stacked up too, with coronavirus patients being treated in field hospitals and lined up in corridors inside the cramped public hospitals. Due to a lack of adequate protection, doctors and nurses are being infected.
The number of novel coronavirus cases in Italy is rising rapidly at a rate of around 3,500 new cases every day, and the death toll has topped 2,500.
Many wonder how this is going to end, and whether the economic cost of the lockdown is worth it. There are encouraging signs that the number of new cases in the original red zone in northern Italy may be leveling off, but experts say it is far too soon to consider this as a reliable trend.
According to the latest official figures, Italy is the worst-affected country in Europe. There are more than 2,000 people in intensive care units across the country. Most are concentrated in Lombardy, the epicenter of the virus on February 23, but many fear there will be new areas further south, where infrastructure are weaker and where fewer people are following to the lockdown measures.
Dr. Giorgio Palù, the former president of the European and Italian Society for Virology and a professor of virology and microbiology of the University of Padova, told CNN he’d hoped to see the first signs of a change after just over a week of nationwide lockdown, but that has yet to materialize.
“Yesterday we expected to have a change after almost 10 days of this new measure … but it’s still rising,” he said. “So I don’t think we can make a prediction today.”
Palù said that looking at the number of new cases on a graph, the slope of the curve is still rising, which makes it harder to tell when will the lockdown start to reap tangible benefits.
And while the outbreak remains concentrated in the north, it’s hard to compare regions. “The virus has no border. Not even (in) Italy,” he added.
But he believes there’s no alternative to the lockdown as long as everyone cooperates with it, and that the rights of citizens cannot overrule safety.
“We cannot adopt democracy in information, you must rely on experts,” he said.“We should have done more diagnostic tests in Lombardy where there was a big nucleus. There is no sense in trying to go to the supermarket once a week. You have to limit your time out, isolation is the key thing.
Palù believes that the lockdown should have been wider and stricter earlier, rather than just focusing on the 11 communities initially placed in the red zone, and it should be tighter now.
He says the Italian government lagged at first. It was “lazy in the beginning… too much politics in Italy.”
“There was a proposal to isolate people coming from the epicenter, coming from China,” he said. “Then it became seen as racist, but they were people coming from the outbreak.” That, he said, led to the current devastating situation.
Dr.Alessandro Grimaldi, director of infectious disease at Salvatore Hospital in L’Aquila, treated Chiara Bonini, a 26-year-old doctor from Bergamo.
Two weeks after Bonini contracted the virus from her boyfriend, a doctor working in a hospital in Brescia, she has now tested negative.But she will remain in quarantine until she tests negative for the virus a second time. If that happens, she will be able to return to work.
“In Lombardy, where I am from, the healthcare system has collapsed,” adding that doctors were triaging patients to decide which ones to treat. “There just isn’t enough equipment. They choose the young, the medical rule of trying to save who has more probability to live.”
Grimaldi said the only way to fight the battle to keep the healthcare system from total collapse is to increase resources. “Maybe the government should have thought of this before, prepare better,” he said. “But if you don’t see the emergency in front of you, you try to cut.”
Grimaldi added that without more resources, the doctors will continue to struggle to keep up. “Today Italy is in the hands of doctors and nurses: there is a team work on the first lines that is fighting a battle for the patient,” he said. “We are soldiers that fight for our country. If we can end the epidemic here in Italy, we can stop the epidemic in Europe and the world.”
He also agrees that the only way the lockdown will reap benefits is if it is enforced. “Fighting an enemy like this is difficult for everyone,” he said. “China showed us you needed to take drastic measures. Italy was the first to stop flights to China, first country in Europe to do the lockdown.”
The lockdown has stretched the very fabric of Italian society.The people are anxious and the economy is in danger. Easter, which traditionally kicks off the tourist season across the country, has been cancelled, costing small and medium size businesses their livelihoods.
Many have already said they will never reopen.As people default on their loans, both business and personal, the banks will likely need help, and the domino effect of this historical crisis will last long after Italy stops tallying new cases.