Don't Be an Asshole, Stay Indoors – Love, an Italian in Quarantine

"Every time I see one of my British friends post pictures of themselves in bars or with people, I think: 'I used to be you.'"
17 March 2020, 3:33pm
Giacomo Stefanini in quarantine
Giacomo Stefanini.

Daily life during the coronavirus pandemic is starting to look very different this week. On Monday, Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public to give up non-essential contact and stay away from public places like pubs and restaurants. Tempted to go out for a cheeky half pint anyway? Here's VICE Italy staffer Giacomo Stefanini on why you really, really shouldn't.

When this all started I was wary – but kept my cool. After the first lockdown in Milan, on February 23rd, my band cancelled our last show at a DIY space. A few days later I went to rehearsal. It felt weird and we didn’t share beer bottles as usual, but we were still laughing about it all. The last time I properly went out was over two weeks ago, on a Saturday. We had dinner and drinks, but kept a distance and talked about the virus all night.

Then I called my sister. She’s a nurse, and she’s currently working in the emergency room at a small hospital in Lombardy, the most affected region in Italy. Growing up, every time I was scared about something health-related, she would always brush it off: “I know symptoms; the only symptoms you have show you’re a feeble shit.” (I’m guessing your older sisters talk to you like this as well.)

But this time on the phone she was very serious. “It’s bad. We don’t have enough ventilators,” she told me. “We had to choose between two patients today.” And it’s not just old people they’re treating in hospitals: ICUs all around the country have patients in their thirties.

Our parents are in their seventies and eighties, so we’re not seeing them – and I really can’t think of when it’ll feel safe to. The reality has settled in, and there’s no room left for interpretation: we need to stay inside as much as possible. I still go grocery shopping once a week, but that’s become really stressful since the lines are so long and shop workers are put under great pressure. You can’t even tell there’s a line when you approach the supermarket because everybody’s standing so far from the next person, they just look like they’re casually standing there donning mask and gloves.

I haven’t been stopped by the police on my trips yet – which is lucky because I had to move house last weekend and it looked like I was fleeing the country in a rental van – but over 20,000 people in Italy have gotten tickets for being outside without a good reason. Some of my friends have been yelled at, questioned and searched by plainclothes police. If we’d listened to the people urging us to avoid contact and crowds earlier, maybe we wouldn’t have gotten to this point.

I’m really lucky: I moved in with my partner, so at least I get to see her every day. Many of my friends find themselves forced into a long distance relationship out of the blue. I can also work from home, as I’ve been doing for the past four weeks, and get my full salary. My friends who can’t (tattoo artists, musicians, bartenders, concert promoters) are left without a job and no safety net. Other friends, gas station attendants and factory workers, are forced to go to work and be exposed to the virus that, while less lethal for the younger people, can still have serious consequences.

It’s so weird to be, as they say, three weeks ahead of the UK in terms of COVID-19. Through your memes, jokes and news stories, we can see our reflection, and I find myself cringing at my phone screen. Every time I see one of my British friends post pictures of themselves in bars or with people, I think: “I used to be you, and now every night I have to find a new way to pass the time and I miss everybody. And every time the phone rings I hope it’s not one of my friends or family members telling me ‘I’ve caught it’.”