People

“I’m living under the Italian coronavirus lockdown. This is what it’s like.”

Coronavirus cases have been confirmed in all 20 regions of Italy, and shop worker Margherita Zardetto has been in lockdown for three weeks. She tells Stylist what it’s really like living a pared-back existence.

One Friday night three weeks ago everything changed. Coronavirus had been spreading in a little village called Codogno, which is very close to Cremona, the town in northern Italy where I live, and people were getting nervous. Then the TV, radio and, eventually, newspapers began reporting people were infected here, too. The quarantine started right there and then. The mayor made an announcement and the atmosphere started to feel a little hysterical. Was this really happening?

I checked the Town Hall’s website which explained that indeed, it was, so I called my boss. I work in the sports shop Decathlon in the centre of town. She told me the shop was still going to be open and we still had to come in. That wasn’t the greatest news. But what could I do? I grabbed a pair of gloves and disinfectant from home and I began hunting for a mouth mask in town, but the pharmacies had already run out. My boyfriend’s sister ended up sending me some from southern Italy. It’s debatable how useful they actually are but I figure if I follow the rules set out by the government – which are to keep a one-metre distance between yourself and others and to wear gloves and a mask – it’s got to be better than nothing.

Day one: coronavirus lockdown

That first day was horrible. From 9am to 7pm only five people came in to the shop. By the end, we were so stressed and worried about the virus that our boss decided to close early. We’ve been living like this ever since, only leaving the house to go to work or to buy food. I haven’t seen anybody except my boyfriend, who I live with, and my work colleagues. The only freedom I give myself is going for a run in the middle of nowhere. You need something to cope, otherwise you’ll go insane.

At first, there wasn’t a lot of police around the town. But it wasn’t as if anyone could leave anyway. All the little villages that surround us had been on lockdown for weeks and “guarded” by the military (stopping people from getting in or out). Three of my colleagues haven’t been able to come to work for the last three weeks because they live there. They were put on sick leave and eventually were forced to take annual leave because of this. Then, when the whole country was placed on lockdown on Sunday 8 March, police arrived in Cremona to make sure people were keeping their distance from each other and were not going out without a reason. We now have to take a document with us that ensures that we are really going to work, and I carry around my latest payslip just in case (the police might not believe me). 

There was a feeling of collective panic straight away; at least in the north. I think the government made a mistake in sharing so much information with the public at once. 

Picture it: one moment it was “just a flu”, a “normal virus”, “no reason to panic about” and then all of a sudden there was police everywhere, ambulances whizzing around non-stop and reports of people dying here, there and everywhere. Then again, some people are still carrying on as normal – the park in Cremona was busy this weekend – consequently putting us all at risk.

Three weeks into lockdown

We live in a state of permanent anxiety, to the point where people look at each other with uncertainty and distrust. Everybody could potentially be infected. Even in my shop, colleagues don’t really want to help certain clients that are coughing or look unwell – survival instincts kick in and it’s an “every man for himself” kind of situation, which is scary.

Margherita Zardetto
Coronavirus in Italy: Margherita Zardetto has been on lockdown for 3 weeks

My biggest concern right now is work. The economy is collapsing and everyone is worrying about what is going to happen to our jobs. The first week of quarantine the shop barely made any money – we started wondering how they were going to pay our wages. They are cutting down our hours (since the shops are closed on the weekends and close early during the week) which means cuts to our salaries, while rent and normal expenses like electricity, internet and water will of course stay the same. People are saying the government will help us, but I’m not sure how that will work.

When will lockdown end? 

The lockdown doesn’t end until 3 April. The government has said the next two weeks will be fundamental in planning how we’ll move forward. But I’m sceptical; shops are still open and flights are still coming into the country, so how much is really going to change in a two-week period?

When Milan was first put on lockdown I think every country should have begun taking real precautions and enforcing severe restrictions. The Italian situation should be an example: the only way to contain this is taking preventative measures. The virus spreads too quickly to be not taken seriously. And, in the end, yes, panic is never constructive, but common sense is necessary.

Pictures: Margherita Zardetto