The Italian Model Against Coronavirus

Italy was the first country in Europe to be put in lockdown in order to confront the coronavirus. Now, others are following the example.

Pietro Luca Cassarino / CC BY-SA

Italy was the first country in Europe to be put in lockdown in order to confront the coronavirus. Now, others are following the example.

On last March 9, Italians were glued to their TVs and, for once, they had good reason for it. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte was about to deliver one of the most important statements since the end of World War II. “All the restrictive measures already implemented in Lombardy to contain the coronavirus will be extended to the whole national territory,” he claimed from Palazzo Chigi, the government house in Rome. That night, the whole country was put in lockdown: movements were restricted and controlled, schools were closed nationwide — this means more than 8 million kids and young adults suddenly found themselves with nothing to do — and bars and restaurants could stay open only from 6 am to 6 pm. And that was just the beginning.

A few days later, on March 11, Conte signed a new administrative order that only allowed supermarkets, drugstores, and a few other places to remain open. Offices were closed, and people were urged to work from home whenever possible. All kinds of sport competitions and practices were stopped, including the national football tournaments of the Serie A (and that’s a LOT of money).

This set of extreme measures is a result of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. It all started in late February in Codogno, a small and pretty anonymous town near Lodi, in Lombardy. From that moment on, the virus spread with alarming speed throughout the whole peninsula, forcing politicians to organize emergency response teams in record time and to set up extraordinary sanitary protocols in order to face this unprecedented emergency.

A country under quarantine

Within two weeks, Italy was thrown into a situation that most of its citizens would have never even remotely dreamed of. Today, people wear medical masks everywhere, physical contact outside of your home is basically outlawed, and families, lovers, and friends can see each other only through a webcam. When I go to the supermarket, I feel scared. The other customers waiting with me in line, rigorously maintaining a safe distance, look at each other with suspicion and fear, and the smallest cough is enough to enlarge the void that already surrounds all of us. 

Nevertheless, these measures were undoubtedly necessary. The country’s healthcare system has been about to collapse, and medical staff has been working draining shifts to cope with the endless flood of infected patients. At the moment in Italy, more than 30k people have tested positive for the coronavirus, and the death toll passed 2,500. Currently 2,060 people are hospitalized in intensive care units, putting a strain on hospitals’ availability of respirators and, in the worst cases, forcing doctors to manage access to the available equipment based on patients’ changing conditions.

The virus is highly infectious, and it knows no boundaries. For days and weeks, while Italy was taking all kinds of preventive measures to contain and stop contagions, the neighboring European countries kept acting as if nothing was happening: they held concerts with thousands of people, sports matches, parades, and public events went on following their regular schedule. Eventually, they woke up and faced reality, but looking at their borders, European leaders could have acted to prevent and not only to cure


On March 8, northern Italy was a few hours away from being declared a “red area” and put under quarantine. Meanwhile, in central Madrid, a large demonstration was organized to celebrate International Women’s Day, with an estimate of 120,000 people marching along the Gran Vìa. Even though I firmly define myself as a sincere feminist, I do not reckon that a parade was the best thing to do in the middle of a global epidemic — which would soon be upgraded to a pandemic. When a friend of mine who lives in Barcelona asked me if I took part in Milan’s parade, I had to respond that, “It was canceled, we’re dealing with other problems right now.” And it was true. 

The day after, Spain had more than a thousand confirmed cases of coronavirus, and the president of Madrid’s regional government, Isabel Dìaz Ayuso, decided to close all schools, leaving 1.5 million kids at home. Soon enough, the rest of the country would follow. On March 15, the Spanish government led by the socialist Pedro Sanchez declared a State of Alarm and imposed lockdown restrictions similar to the Italian ones, in order to contain contagions. 


Women’s Day was not the only occasion deemed worthy of public celebration. After all, what better time to organize the greatest Smurfs gathering than in the middle of an epidemic? On March 7, some 3,500 people gathered in Landerneau, a small town in the northwest of France, all dressed up as Smurfs, aiming to establish a new Guinness World Record in memory of the Belgian characters. When asked about the risks related to the potential spread of the coronavirus amid the crowd, Landerneau’s mayor Patrick Leclerc said, “We must not stop living […] it was the chance to say that we are alive.”

While Italy closed all of its bars and restaurants, the French were still enjoying the spring sunshine in Paris’ brasseries, and thronging in line at the Louvre Museum and at stadiums’ gates. On top of this, right around this time, the French channel Canal+ published a controversial, satirical advertisement showing a “Coronavirus pizza” made by infected Italian chefs. The video was highly inappropriate (to say the least), in a moment when hundreds of Italians had already lost their lives due to the spread of the virus, and it was soon after removed from the network.

On March 11th, the French government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiayne claimed during a press conference that, “Italy took some measures, such as body temperature checks, that could not stop the epidemic. We are not adopting the same measures.” Nevertheless, the day after, as the number of people who tested positive kept growing along with the death toll, French president Emmanuel Macron declared the nationwide closure of schools, followed on March 14 by the closure of cafès, shops, and restaurants. “We are at war against the virus,” Macron said in an official statement. 


Germany is partly following the “Italian model” as well. On Monday, March 16, the government led by Chancellor Angela Merkel shut down all non-essential shops, bars, clubs, and religious services. Restaurants are still allowed to operate until 6 pm, provided that they respect the safe distance between customers. German President Frank-Walter Steinmeier urged all citizens to “stay at home,” affirming in an official statement, “So wherever possible: stay at home! Avoid close contact […] and have an understanding of all restrictive measures.” The management of educational activities was left in the hands of the individual states, but all of them eventually decided to close schools as the situation worsened. 

It’s about time to fight coronavirus together

Italy was the first country to adopt severe measures, but certainly not the last one to do so. Overall, it looks like most of the other European countries are following the “Italian model,” although with several days of delay. The coronavirus is a global pandemic, by definition a disease that “occurs over a wide geographic area and affects an exceptionally high proportion of the population.” In order to defeat it, countries must be united and work together. It’s about time.

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