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Coronavirus in Italy – “a national emergency”

"We want to guarantee the health of our citizens. We understand that these measures will impose sacrifices, sometimes small and sometimes very big.

But this is a time where we must take responsibility for ourselves."

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte

Ten days ago coronavirus was only just a topic of conversation here in Puglia. Something that people talked about in the local shops and in passing. Something to “think” about if planning a trip to the north of Italy, or abroad.

We watched the stories about coronavirus on the news, heard about it on the radio and read about it in the press and on social media. But it didn’t feel like something that affected our daily life in Puglia.

This morning we wake up to find that a quarter of Italy’s population - up to 16 million people - have been put in quarantine.

After 1,200 new coronavirus cases were confirmed in the last 24 hours, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree placing the region of Lombardy, home to more than 10 million people and the financial capital, Milan, and other northern provinces under strict quarantine.

"There will be no movement in or out of these areas, or within them, unless for proven, work-related reasons emergencies or health reasons," the Prime Minister explained.

The restrictions also apply to Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia, Rimini, Pesaro and Urbino, Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, Vercelli, Padua, Treviso and Venice.

People are unable to enter or leave, except for emergency access. Those who break the quarantine could face three months in jail. It is not a complete lockdown. Trains and planes can still run. The BBC are reporting that these restrictions do not apply to tourists.

Although the most recent travel restrictions do not (currently) apply to Puglia, we are now very much aware that Covid-19 is here.

According to data issued by Italy’s Ministry of Health at 19:00 of 7 March 2020 we currently have 26 confirmed cases in Puglia. Two elderly patients - both with pre-existing health conditions - have died. People are starting to get concerned.

Earlier in the week measures were issued by the Council of Ministers with the aim of containing the coronavirus. These included the closure of schools and universities nationwide. Social gatherings in public - and in private - where close contact of crowds was anticipated were banned.

“Conferences, meetings, gatherings and social events, including cinema and theatrical events, held in any place, both public and private, which entail crowding of people such as not to allow the respect of the interpersonal safety distance of at least one meter, are suspended.”

Sporting events, cinema and theatre most obviously, but also smaller gatherings were effectively restricted.

Choir rehearsals, meetings for organisations - social and planning meetings for Salento Pride; Arcigay Salento in common with many social organisations have cancelled all events and meetings in order to comply with these requirements - are impacted.

Perhaps one of the most upsetting effects of the containment measures is that funeral services are restricted. In Italy funerals take place very quickly - often within 24 hours. Prayers are being said in private, families are unable to hold a public service.

People with respiratory problems have been advised to stay at home, as have those over the age of 65.

The decree even provides guidance to refrain from the traditional greeting of kissing on the cheek and hugging, to avoid crowded places and keep a distance of one to two metres from others.

Friends in Bari are referring to feeling under house arrest - “arresti domiciliari”. Even although  the quarantine doesn’t apply to them yet.

The psychological effect is starting to take its toll. Over the next few days we will be speaking to people in and around Puglia to find out exactly how the public health crisis is impacting on their day-to-day life, and how it is making them feel.


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