I am sitting here in our apartment in Florence, Tuscany feeling both scared and defiant. The normally bustling street is quiet. After an extraordinary few weeks which has profoundly shocked Italy, the world is catching up. The news everywhere is dominated by the potential impact of Coronavirus.
Over the past four weeks, the mood has shifted many times. The government and health officials initially attempted a calm and reassuring stance, realising that panic and misinformation could have catastrophic effects on the national psyche.
Fear of an epidemic is as old as mankind itself
In the first week, the country’s president, Sergio Mattarella, called for the “irrational and motiveless fear” to stop.
The Italian Society of Psychiatrists (SIP) issued guidelines on how to cope with “Coronavirus stress and anxiety.”
Enrico Zanalda, president of the society talked of the “violent impact” on daily life. Fear of the virus has caused “the cancellation or postponement of thousands of small but important events in people’s lives from birthdays to baptisms.”
“Fear of an epidemic is as old as mankind itself. In this case its effect is amplified by incomplete, even false information which has caused public confidence in our institutions to collapse.”
On the early hours of March 10 things took a dramatic twist. Italy is now in total lockdown to try and contain the spread of Coronavirus. People are being told to stay at home and that “there is no red zone, just Italy”.
Schools and universities throughout Italy are closed and public gatherings, funerals and weddings are banned throughout the country.
All religious gatherings have been stopped, although churches can have their doors open for private prayer.
Only food shops and pharmacies are open, plus a few other exceptions, but most shops are closed.