Depressing… A Football Journalist’s Life In Italy Under Coronavirus Lockdown

The epicentre of the world’s
growing coronavirus crisis, Italy has seen record deaths and had its
healthcare systems overwhelmed.

Depressing… A Football Journalist’s Life In Italy Under Coronavirus Lockdown 1

Concerned
friends, family and colleagues keep asking what it’s like living under
lockdown in Italy. The short but honest answer is, pretty depressing.

Getting
stopped by the Carabinieri while walking the dog on Thursday (at least,
I think it was Thursday) was the highlight of my week.

As
the officer approached, I was holding a small bag of dog sh*t in one
hand and a leash in the other, and yet he still opened with, “What are
you doing here?”

I desperately wanted to reply, “Obviously,
you’re not a golfer.” But thought better of it. After all, he may not
have been a Big Lebowski fan.

He was a football fan, though.
Like most people in Italy. So, when it emerged during my subsequent
interrogation that I was a football journalist, we ended up chatting for
five minutes about when Serie A might resume.

Had it not
been for our shared love of football, I strongly suspect that he’d have
fined me for not being in possession of the requisite permission slip
for going outdoors.

As it was, I cleverly agreed with him
that it would be “scandalous” if the “hunchbacks” (Juventus) were to be
awarded this season’s Scudetto, so he allowed me and my dog to go about
our business (even if, technically, Fionn had already taken care of
his).

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I
was told, though, that our walks should be shortened. The dog’s
preferred dumping ground may only be 400 metres from the apartment I
share with my girlfriend just outside Bologna’s city centre, but even
that was too far away, according to the officer. We can only go around
the block from now on.

The lockdown laws have been tightened
significantly over the past week due to the continued rise of cases of
coronavirus in Italy – and rightly so.

As two Chinese
doctors brought in to help the fight against the spread of Covid-19 so
bluntly pointed out in a scathing appraisal of the lax lockdown
regulations in Rome, many people are still ignoring the instructions to
only venture out for situations of necessity (walking the dog), health
reasons, work purposes, or buying the bare essentials.

As
recently as last Tuesday, it was possible to see people running in the
streets of Bologna, and no, not to beat the queues for toilet roll –
there have been no such incidents of bulk-buying of this kind in Italy
thus far.

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It was a similar story in Bergamo, one of the
cities hit hardest by the devastating outbreak of the coronavirus, and
Atalanta captain Papu Gomez was among those left outraged by such a
blatant disregard for the welfare of others.

“I tell all the
runners, or fake runners, who want to still go out and train, stay at
home,” the Argentine wrote on Instagram. “Enough, enough, enough!

“Every morning we wake up to bad news. People are dying, and you still don’t realise? Everyone at home! Nobody should go out.”

If
you’re lucky enough to live in a country that has yet to feel the full
traumatic effects of this virus, you might well be thinking, ‘What does
Gomez know? He’s just a footballer.’

And you’d be correct.
Footballers are not experts in this field; then again, many do seem to
have a greater grasp of the severity of the situation than some
presidents of the United States and Prime Ministers of Great Britain.

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Some
people may have “had enough of experts” but Gomez, to his credit, is
listening to the medics and the scientists, and it’s easy to understand
why.

The veteran forward was one of the stars of the show as
Atalanta routed Valencia 4-1 in the first leg of their Champions League
last-16 tie at San Siro on February 19.

More than 40,000
people travelled down from Bergamo that night and played a pivotal role
in roaring their team to a historic victory.

Even as an
‘impartial’ journalist (it’s hard to be impartial when it comes to a
fairytale as endearing as Atalanta’s), it was a privilege to be present
for what should have been remembered as one of the greatest nights in
the club’s history.

Now, though, just over a month later, it is being referred to as the night “joy created a tragedy”.

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“The
aggregation of thousands of people, centimetres from each other,
engaging in manifestations of euphoria like hugging, shouting, all of
that could’ve favoured viral reciprocation.

“With hindsight,
it was madness to play with a crowd present, but at the time things
weren’t clear enough. It’d be unthinkable now.”

Italy
certainly made a lot of mistakes early on in its handling of the
outbreak, and is now paying a dreadful price. What’s even more
concerning is that many countries didn’t learn anything from those
mistakes.

Only last week, 250,000 people from all corners of
the United Kingdom and Ireland attended the Cheltenham horse racing
festival, while nearly 53,000 people turned up at Anfield to watch
Liverpool play Atletico Madrid in the Champions League.

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Of
course, there is an understandable desire to try to limit the damage
being done to every nation’s economy, to protect people’s ability to
earn a living. However, it’s clear that everyone needs to be smarter, to
try to adapt, to salvage what they can.

I have one friend
living in Bologna who runs a language school that is now in danger of
going bankrupt. They’re losing some €8,000 a week but have invested a
significant amount of their budget in a program that will allow them to
continue doing some of their lessons online. These may not sound like
massive figures but he’s desperately doing everything he can to continue
paying his employees.

And that is the one positive to all
of this: we’re seeing so many people in Italy doing whatever they can to
look after one another, and look out for one another.

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For
every person that fled Lombardy when news of the imminent lockdown was
released and thus facilitated the spread of the virus southwards, there
is another putting his or her life at risk in overwhelmed hospitals and
health care facilities up and down the country, including my girlfriend
(I’m an asthmatic living in northern Italy yet I’d have been more afraid
of her than coronavirus if I’d not hailed her and her incredible
colleagues in a personal piece on the lockdown!).

These
people are genuine heroes and should be remembered as such when all of
this is over. They should be appropriately rewarded.

We
should also be grateful for those merely lifting the spirits of others,
whether that’s by starting sing-songs on balconies, hanging Italian
flags outside their windows, pinning their children’s drawings to the
doors, passing on memes trying to make light of a horrible situation, or
even writing stupid articles full of silly references to
inconsequential things like movies and football…

None of
this is funny, of course; Covid-19 may be invisible but it is a clear
and present threat to millions of people across the world. Do not
underestimate it. This really does affect us all. So, listen to the
World Health Organisation (WHO). Listen to the doctors. Listen to the
experts. Listen to Papu. Listen to Gloria Gaynor!

Wash your
hands regularly. Maintain social distancing. Only go out if essential.
Do not bulk-buy. And do what little you can to stay positive. And help
others stay positive.

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On
every walk with the dog, we pass an apartment block door adorned with a
child’s painting of a rainbow with the words ‘Andrà tutto bene’
(Everything’s going to be alright) written below.

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It must be so tough for kids being cooped up at home for weeks on end. And perhaps even tougher for the parents!

It
must be unbearable for those who don’t live with their partners. I know
of one couple who go grocery shopping at the same time just so they can
see one another, even if it is just for a short while and, agonisingly,
from a metre apart.

But it lifts your spirits to see how
people are coping, and adapting. And it makes you believe that when all
of this is over, maybe we’ll have a greater appreciation of the little
things in life that are actually so important: a touch, a hug or a kiss.

Honestly,
I can’t help but smile every time I see that child’s painting and I’m
immensely grateful for that fact, because while I don’t know what it’s
like where you are right now, believe me, there’s not much else to smile
about here.

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What’s life really like under lockdown?

Nearly everything’s closed: the bars, the pubs, the gyms, the parks, the pitches and the playgrounds.

You
spend all day at home. You don’t get to see your friends. You don’t get
to see your family. You don’t stop worrying about your parents.

And then, every evening at 6pm, the Italian state announces the amount of new cases and deaths from coronavirus.

And you hope against hope that the numbers will have dropped, even just a little.

You hope for a sign that the lockdown is working, that the situation is improving, that things are going to be okay.

And your heart sinks when they reveal another unwanted record has been broken; that so many more people have died.

Italy
has a world-class healthcare system yet the country’s resources have
been stretched to breaking point. There are not even enough masks for
all of us.

The hard truth is that things are only going to get worse before they get better.

We don’t know when this is going to end.

We don’t know if we’re still going to have jobs when all of this is over.

We don’t know if we’ll ever get to hug all of our loved ones again.

We don’t even know if we’ll survive ourselves….

I really regret not making that Big Lebowski reference when I had the chance.