COVID19 in Italy, I've almost had enough
(but not of the lockdown, mind you)
Italy continues to be closer than most of the (western) world to the post-COVID19 age. To help you be prepared, here is another mix of chronicle of daily italian life under (now five weeks of) lockdown, and anticipations of large scale social changes and risks, that from here are a bit easier to see, earlier than elsewhere.
My own family is OK,, but we currently are in “quarantine inside quarantine”. I explain what that means in a separate post.
Dance, photo archives, and making sourdough. The first two activities have become great pasttimes, accessible even to apartment city dwellers. Find videos to learn salsa, tango, whatever; and ask your relatives to scan and share through the cloud any old photographs they can find, then sort them all. Helps a lot. Trust me.
Breadmaking is a pleasant necessity, but learn to grow your own sourdough. Yeast remains the hardest thing to find, at least in my neighborhood.
Barbery is also popular. I see friends posting pictures of themselves trimming each other’s hair. I’ll copy them soon. It’s unavoidable, when you don’t know when quarantine will end.
Porn offers support to italian administrations. On April 1st, the INPS website, were self-employed professionals could file to get a 600 Euros “emergency bonus” crashed almost immediately, giving birth to countless memes:
and an official offer from PornHub to host the website on their servers, that never crash.
Expecting mothers in red zones alternate counts of baby movements with those of ambulance sirens.
Walking the kids around the block to relieve their stress is allowed, but in some (rare!) cases, it yeld insults from balconies, for unresponsible behavior. Nerves are tense, and indeed…
Lockdown creates new occasions for crimes, and new crime reactions. Someone killed his brother, allegedly for making coffee too noisily. A couple of thieves posing as social workers tried to enter the home of an ancient lady, and were arrested because her good neighbors immediately called the police. But before the police left, the same neighbors tried to rush in and lynch the thieves. Some folks just won’t get social distancing, will they?
And that’s nothing, compared to the moronic geniuses who dump their own gloves in… supermarket carts, when they’re done shopping:
The rush to second homes continues, and it’s wrong: “OUR infection rates are decreasing, but if city folks keep coming, things will worsen again”. That is why the major of Sauze d’Oulx, in the Piedmont Alps, asked military help to stop people from Turin and other cities trying to reach their second homes.
Other majors are similarly mad. The one of Nettuno, south of Rome, blocked the relocation of 50 migrants previously hosted in Rome, including one COVID19-positive. The major of Fiumicino, instead, is mad because 45 positive tourists and sailors from cruise ships were dumped into local hotels, until new orders, without adequate measures.
Italian wineries go virtual, attracting customers with virtual tasting sessions.
Online wine sales have increased 50 to 500%, vendors say.
No trial for them. At the opposite end of the same spectrum, doctors and nurses are appalled by a new law proposal that would shield from malpractice accusations healthcare and hospital managers who did not act fast enough to protect both staff and patients
Advertisers have adjusted to the new “normal”: this week, we are blessed with commercials prompting kids to get ready for wonderful indoor Easter Bunny hunts. Hunts that here, unlike New Zealand and anglo-saxon countries in general, are another foreign tradition forced on us by industries, after US-style Halloweens. Oh, and we also get email with banners and titles like this:
Schools issue formal disciplinary reports… to parents who help their kids cheat online tests.
Less VAT, more rationing, please. On April 3rd, a deputy minister proposed to lower VAT on masks to 5%. Still sounds about 5% too high to me. Apart from that (other countries, take note) I feel we need real rationing at least as much as low mask prices: currently, italian pharmacies only sell “4 masks per customer”, but this only leads to people cruising pharmacies for hours, trying to grab as many masks as they can, even if they don’t really need them.
Two wars, one pandemic, no problem: a Grandma Ada in Piedmont just recovered from COVID19, at 104 years old:
Soccer does not want to stop, and still tries to get permission to resume matches in full summer.
“Just 6 Euros of groceries? Shame on you!” yelled a supermarket clerk to people still buying groceries daily, half a bag each time, instead of weekly, to limit contacts. The only patch I can see for this dumb habit is weekly shopping schedules based on last names, i.e. Mondays are only for people with surnames starting with A to D, and so on.
Ageism takes new forms, but it’s OK:
“If you DO know what this stuff is, you’re at risk! Stay home!”
But many young people volunteer to support to lonely seniors (“anziani”), even with just a phone call:
Amazon deliveries are almost back to normal frequency, sources tell me, bringing families much needed items to endure the lockdown, e.g.: cyclettes and other exercise equipment, videogames, garden chairs, musical instruments and so on. Only in neighborhoods that can still afford them, I guess.
Big Tech increases its grip on youngsters, with Amazon offering special deals to students, in partnership with Microsoft:
Drone husbands roam supermarkets: these are the guys going through the isles, remotely controlled by wives through ear-glued smartphones: “OK, now turn left to get the beans… now point the camera at the shelf… There, take 12 of those yellow cans”. I pass them with contempt, proud of my shopping skills, and of a wife that still trusts me.
The best masks in the long run are those I discovered only a few days ago. If we all end up wearing masks for an undefinite amount of time, how will deaf people read lips??? Kudos to Ashley Lawrence and everybody else working on great masks for everybody, not just deaf people. If we have to wear masks for years they will differentiate to become status symbols, just like watches today. But we’ll all need to exchange visible smiles as much as a vaccine:
The city of L’Aquila broke a record: eleven years of “Red Zone”, for being almost entirely off-limits since the Earthquake of April 6th, 2009. Many of its former residents fear a violent COVID19 outbreak in the temporary housing they’ve been living in since then.
Gypsies are in worst conditions, locked into their camps, with no welfare measures including them, and presumably little or no access to digital payments.
Pope Francis asked on April 6th to care about the poor, that, because of pre-existing, structural injustices now also include many of the “middle” class: because “this is not Communism, is the center of the Gospel”. In the trenches, the italian clergy is doing a pretty good job personally assisting poors and elders, while doing as much as they can online. In 2019, not all priests would have immediately got Easter memes like this:
The virus is leaving Italy “less future, but more idle time to wait for it”. Awareness that this summer mask lines may be a much bigger deal than bikini lines grows.
Deaths and contagions have slowed down, but are still very high. News of a second wave in China, don’t help to understand when and how lockdown as it is now may end. Digital contact tracing? OK, but by now we are pretty sure we are not equipped (technologically and culturally) to just copy South Korean solutions. Reports that contact tracing wasn’t enough even in places like Singapore adds to the confusion.
We know some more things we don’t know yet, like why lockdowns were not ordered earlier in Lombardy, or why Veneto was hit less violently, or that tampons (same article) are useless once contagion is already spread. As in the rest of the world, we have no precise idea of how many people here have COVID19.
We are just sure that (like in Spain, and all other countries, basically many COVID19 deaths in retirement homes have gone unreported:
Even doctors in Liguria don’t understand why one of their provinces shows much worst death rates than the others.
At the same time, we are rediscovering other important things we already knew. For example that, like many other countries, we were 50K nurses short before the pandemic.
Schools may do the right thing now. And then collapse. The possibility that schools could just call it quits and run simplified final state exams online increases every week. I like that, never mind grades this year. That way, the only problem left for next autumn will be how to ignore new rules on social distancing, in the too many classrooms that already were officially over capacity by 2019 standards.
No big deal. Especially considering that hundred thousands children may turn to public schools, if the private ones hosting them this year will go bankrupt:
A survey of jobs italians may keep doing under relaxed, or no lockdown shows that 55% of those jobs may happen “from one’s home, or without personal contacts with other” (categories 1 and 2 of this diagram):
The survey says nothing, however, of how many of those jobs will remain, or if society really needed them, or will still need them afterwards.
Italian airports have lost 115 million passengers in one month.
Restaurants are not sure they can survive and so do hotels: permanent social distancing and continuous sanitation just don’t match the physical reality of business models based on breakfast buffets, or existing kitchen and dining rooms. Especially if carved into deliciously intimate cellars, stores or farmhouses built many decades ago.
That applies to most sectors. A dentist friend of mine tells me his category has no idea which equipment, practices and liability insurances they will be obliged to adopt post-COVID19, in order to keep sticking their noses into people’s mouths: they only know it will be quite expensive, and come after months without work.
Politically, these last days before Easter have been called the moment we’ll know whether Coronavirus will break Europe or not. Doubts on the effective amount, reach and effectiveness of EU aid just start to appear. On the positive side, days ago I finally found on major media the same thing I’ve been saying for weeks: this year’s crisis is not caused by COVID19 (see here for my own version, in English, of the same argument).
The world of 2021, seen from here
Family role changes more relevant than “drone husbands” may outlast the pandemic, and not because of (if confirmed) “more men than women dying, for both genetic and cultural reasons”. I am talking of all the families in which women had “humbler” jobs related to human care, from teacher to hairdresser or janitor, while husbands had “real” jobs and careers, from project manager to programmer, or pilot. A pandemic that erases many more “real” jobs” than “humbler” ones leaves many more families than before with women as the main breadwinner.
Being locked down with less money and hopes of a sane future will also mean less, not more babies than usual. How all this will play out socially and politically, is anybody’s guess.
Is US really committing economic suicide via COVID19, as argued here? I don’t know, and I surely am not in my most positive mood these days. But when I read that piece, the first image that came to my mind was one of the consequences on Italy, or any other country hosting US military bases: big compounds, full of state of the art weapons and know-how, staffed by people without money or purpose anymore, just one call away from criminal cartels full of cash.
The “fourth wave” of COVID19 may be just “business as 2019”, and it’s BAD. We are all more or less concerned about another outbreak next winter. But look at the fourth of the possible “aftershock waves” we may face, according to this great chart published by Victor Tseng, a US doctor:
That fourth wave is “Psychic trauma, mental illness, economic injury, burnout”. That is, exactly the PRE-pandemic mental state of many millions people who already lived paycheck-to-paycheck in 2019, as I wrote last year.
Which brings me to the title of this post: I’ve almost had enough, but not of the lockdown: of the post-covid hopes and attitudes I see around. I am angry, and worried, because almost everybody is talking of how to restart the economy, but almost nobody is talking about restarting (a better) society.
You want to restore the economy? OK, what about this?
Healthcare-wise, I just know that I want 3D printers in every hospital, staff trained to manufacture with them whatever they need in emergencies, and full freedom for them to do it without half-indecent, half-anachronistic legal restrictions.
Apart from that, I do not know how to cure COVID19, limit its spread or develop a vaccine. I just keep seeing signs that the cure for society to recover from this outbreak must include a complete reinvention of labour and money: how it is “created”, distributed, taxed, everything.
Floods of money going to the same places as before, in the same ways as before, will do little good, or perpetuate harm. Public money to starving construction workers? No doubts! But keeping alive construction companies, in an Italy that had, one year ago, 300K empty houses and a percentage of soil covered with cement double the EU average, seems nonsensical, to be polite. Worldwide, what is the reason to rescue, rather than just its employees, a “big food” industry that fills food with antibiotics, that may kill hundreds millions of people spared by COVID19?
I am no vegan, thank you very much. But if 75% of emerging infectious diseases come from animals it seems quite stupid to not preserve natural habitats, or keept eating meat as before.
Millennials already were a pretty unhealthy generation, and it seems that cleaner air decreases the likelihood that one can contract COVID-19. It also seems that cleaner skies from strict lockdown may have saved, in the first two months of 2020, 20 times more lives than those lost to COVID19 in China in the same period.
My point here? That (regardless of how we define “prosperous”), even if all we care about is a prosperous economy, we cannot have it without enough healthy people (both physically and mentally) to feed it. All I see around me in Italy now points in one direction: from where the world is now, the only physically possible way left to really “restore the economy”, any economy, is less harmful or meaningless activities, not more.
Request to “preserve” certain sectors as they were are exactly what I fear about “going back to normal”.
If money can be created at will, it may be much smarter to give it to people unconditionally, exactly to allow businesses to crumble, and can come back in forms that make more sense.
After all, isn’t the most successful cult we have now all about entrepreneurship, innovation and really free markets? What are we waiting to actually practice it?
Final, unavoidable notice, and request
I have been working and writing here for years exactly around appropriate technologies that may facilitate the social progress that COVID19 has already made impossible to delay. If you find my COVID19 chronicles, post-COVID19 reading list and my other work useful, please do share and support it as much as you can, thanks.