In this article, I would like to update you about the situation in Italy due to the COVID-19 outbreak and how this is affecting Italian families and businesses.
We all know from the news what happened and what is happening but I would like to go further and describe it with the eyes and the hearts of my friends and family both from a general and business point of view.
We didn’t see it coming (underestimated by the most)
As some of you know, I live in London, UK while my family and the cashmere knitwear factory which supplies the beautiful items on this website are in the Florence area, Italy.
Back at the end of January, I received a message from my mum saying “Have you heard about the virus coming from China?”. At that time there were only some pieces of news going around Facebook so I didn’t really pay too much attention, underestimating the issue (like most EU countries did).
As the situation worsens and the main media started to report about the coronavirus in the UK, I was keeping an eye on the Italian news as well as receiving updates from my parents and friends.
The first weekend of March I went to visit the factory in Italy to check some new colours and items for a new summer collection. Travelling from Stansted to Pisa was quite normal, just a few people wearing masks so it felt as usual.
Once we got off the plane in Pisa, we stopped just before the passport control as a medical staff was testing the temperature of each passenger of my flight. That’s when I realised that the situation was more serious than I thought.
I returned to the UK on the 9th of March and that’s when the Italian PM announced the national quarantine in order to reduce the impact on the national health service.
In those days, people were already a bit scared. My parents, for example, were already working in the factory with masks on and giving masks to all customers which would show up for business visits. In those days, my mum was texting me every day begging me not to go out and to always use a mask.
Initially, that lockdown would affect only non-essential businesses open to the public and all sports events. Two days after, on the 11th of March, PM Giuseppe Conte tightened the lockdown with all the businesses except those providing essential services closed down until 3rd of April.
At the time of writing this article, the lockdown has been extended to 4th of May 2020.
Life as we knew just stopped
Italians like to be social. We do. That’s in our nature. Going to the local bar after work for and “aperitivo” or just stopping by the grocery store to have a chat with someone we know, that’s what we usually do all the time.
Retired people are the most social. You can see them strolling around the city, shopping, playing cards at the local “Casa del Popolo” or simply taking the grandchildren to the playgrounds.
Please note that the lockdown in Italy is very different to what has been implemented in the UK or other countries. That’ serious stuff.
Basically, almost from one day to the next, you would need some sort of pass to go out of your house and travel anywhere close by (you are not allowed to move to another council either). This paper needs to be filled with all your personal information and declaring:
- That you are not subject to quarantine as not tested positive to COVID/19
- Where you are travelling from and where you are going
- That you are aware of the lockdown and about the travelling restrictions
- That you are aware of the further restrictions due to the region you are living in
- That you are aware of the fines (yes the fines) you would incur
- That your trip is due to:
- Proven working needs
- Absolute urgency
- Situation of necessity
- Health reasons
Why is this form required? Police are patrolling the streets and as nobody is supposed to be around, they would stop you immediately asking for this paper as well as checking your answers.
Sounds like a freedom limitation to me however that’s what is happening.
You can download a copy of the form at this link of the Italian government: https://www.interno.gov.it/sites/default/files/allegati/nuovo_modello_autodichiarazione_26.03.2020_editabile.pdf
How Coronavirus affects people in Italy
I usually video call my family and friends, maybe now more than before, as we all have more spare time. Looks like we started to realise how important are the people you love.
I have several friends who have lost a grandma or grandpa, an uncle, a neighbour, someone they knew. All this sudden death around has probably changed the priorities towards what really matters. Now that the hectic everyday life has slowed down, people are eventually understanding what really matters.
Hospitals are still working hard to try to cure people affected by the coronavirus and people are recognising the need of the medical staff in the frontline of this war to the virus. Some emotional moments have been posted on Facebook showing law enforcement officers and firefighters thanking the doctors and nurses outside the hospitals.
People in self-isolation is now going out only for real need and campaigns such as hashtag #iorestoacasa (I stay home) are running but sometimes it gets out of control and it is not rare to see people shouting from their balconies to those who are walking the dog or just jogging (effectively breaking the law).
Some people use the excuse of shopping for food just to escape from home and have a reason to go out. But when you get to the supermarket the queue is usually very long, especially now that we are around Easter (Italians need to have the big Easter lunch no matter what). The image below is taken from a Facebook group of a small town, but the situation would be more or less the same everywhere:
I have a friend who went to walk her dog 600 metres from his house and got a fine of 280.00 Euro from the local police. She is a doctor and was alone with the dog, no one around but still got a fine.
Below you can find a picture of the fine she sent me via Whatsapp:
At the same time I look outside my window in London and there are thousands of people strolling, jogging or cycling. I am wondering who is doing the right thing?
People in Italy feel like they are on home detention. My concern is how would this affect the mental health of Italians?
How Coronavirus affects the businesses in Italy
At the moment, all non-essential businesses have been closed for a month. Italy in Cashmere was supposed to be restocking most of the cashmere wraps and ponchos as well as adding more items to the collection.
Unfortunately, the factory closure has left the manufacture unfinished. We won’t be able to get anything until mid-May (unless the Italian government extends the lockdown further). I suppose there are many other businesses which are in the same situation all over the world due to this knock-on effect.
I am also thinking about the entertainment and food and beverage industries. Sports events, concerts etc. won’t be happening for a long time.
Tourism has been hit the most. In some parts of Italy, the economy is entirely based on tourism which has been destroyed by the travelling restrictions. There are concerns that some of the seaside destinations won’t be reopening for the summer. But honestly, even if they do, affluence won’t probably be the same as last year.
Some restaurants have converted to take away only but some others have not and just decided to stay closed.
As local food markets have been closed down, farms who used to supply these markets with locally sourced, high-quality food products, started to deliver food without charging extra fees. They re-invented their business to cope with the restrictions and helping local people getting quality food as they used to do in the food markets – and you know how important is quality food to Italians.
Factories are closed and most of the employees are in a temporary lay-off scheme.
Some other professional categories also would not be operating.
Now I am not an economist but most of the companies are closed and won’t be doing business for months, how this would impact on the economy? Hardly I believe.
The government announced what they called “£400 billion financial aid” in the form of state-backed bank loans. I am wondering if these measures wouldn’t just add debt to the already fragile economy made of mostly small companies? Surely, helps won’t be easy to get due to Italian bureaucracy. Italians are used to it however it would be difficult to describe what means dealing with Italian bureaucracy to a foreigner. Let’s just say that I would not wish that to anyone.
What Italians expect in the near future
Some people are confident that Italy will come out of this as it has always come out all the worst crisis of history. This time might be something different though, maybe it will change our life completely (at least for some years to come).
Some people are not as confident though. In general, there is a feeling of being abandoned by the state. This is stronger among small business owners and people on a contract which have not entitled to the lay-off schemes and towards whom the government hasn't been clear enough.
Clearly help is expected to support the economy in general but not only, people's mental health is also at risk: restrictions to personal freedom, news constantly showing outbreak numbers, fear for job loss could really create a country-wide issue.