My two cents on the Coronavirus: the Italian 'pandemia'

March 2, 2020

I’m typing with the humble pretension to be a war reporter in the hot spot of conflict. To be the eyes and ears for my hypothetical audience. To face crucial events in the making of history. But I’m just back from Italy, where I met thecoronavirus’.



I haven’t been touched by what seems to be a global health crisis up until now. From the safety of HM’s land – at least, until my departure a week ago - I thought I was safe and sound. I looked around me from the top of my impregnable tower, listlessly inspecting what was going on in Italy. I thought it was too much noise for nothing, and I carried on with my life as normal. Indeed, COVID-19 isn’t the first virus spreading across the globe and, not by chance, from inland China. I hope you’re not too young or illiterate not to recall the SARS or the avian flu. 


I knew little about COVID-19 until I flew back to visit my mom in… hospital. That’s another story. This post won’t be about the adrenaline flowing from my brain to my veins, while I find myself in a hospital maze. This will be the next chapter if I am safe in my isolation.


Landing at Roma Fiumicino opened my eyes and catapulted me in that chaotic reality, which is the daily Italy I remember. My current hometown, Birmingham, sees a variety of faces and the fear of the foreign(er) hasn’t much sense. The Asiatic community is lively, especially around the Edgbaston campus, where young Chinese and Korean students wearing a white or a black mask are a daily presence. Bumping into these young people casts no shadow of suspect or terror. Their custom has more to do with cool trends, habits and pollution rather than the flu and global concerns! But then, as soon as I put my feet in that Italian airport, I saw the first Europeans wearing masks, of all varieties. Surgical: checked! Respiratory: checked! A catalogue of products and clumsy attempts to self-prevention. I got my cold body scanned prior to officially stepping onto Italic land by a small team, which wasn’t eager to follow correct health procedures. 




The array of ‘funny’ behaviours continued onboard of the Leonardo Express from Fiumicino to Roma Termini for my joy and my laughs. Young and old, there was no distinction in my fellow passengers; they were just a small portion of the population concerned about public exposure. 
Here, what I saw and experienced: in front of each other, a guy with a respiratory mask checks his mobile; while a man is sweating copiously with a disposable piece. He had no fear to remove his protection to have his chewing gum. Once in Rome, everything seems back to the normality to me. I take a tram, I cross a bridge in Trastevere, I stomp cobblestones streets, and I see groups of cool guys living, as usual, breathing freely (as usual). Where’s the pressure, then? Is it over?

Travelling with the young fella on the Leonardo Express to Roma Termini.
 [credits: myself] 

It’s an illusion broken by my first zapping on TV. A talk show is unusually quiet, I can’t hear the public clapping…

The post primetime schedule is populated by reportages and more talks where the pivotal topic – if not the unique one – gets ‘viral’: is the contagion. I see again faces deprived of human expressions like those on the train earlier. But as soon as I leave the apartment on the next day, I take a bus and a train to head South, everything sounds and looks ordinary, except for the headlines on the newspapers. I arrive at my final destination. Weather changes and the air is that of a sleepy countryside. Here, people have their say on politics and national facts with the - rather bored - newsagent man. With the same omniscience of those annoying TV commentators but with a genuine humbleness. There’s no rush and no need to hurry up. Life goes slow as these chats. There is nothing else in my Italian hometown - Vallo della Lucania - too far from that Codogno, where every infected comes from and for some unclear reasons. 


The deserted village of Codogno (Lodi, Northern Italy) 


I hear of panic, closed schools, Carnivals being cancelled, calcio matches without fans, queues for groceries, food shortage, lack of medical staff, new cases every day, villages in quarantine. All of these every day. A ‘red zone’. Some deaths. But it’s all too far from my valley. At home, we laugh about that mysterious place called Codogno.

It looks like, if you get COVID-19, you receive a death sentence. Is it? At today, there are more than 1000 positive cases but just 29 deaths, 50 full recoveries. [1] Healing from this beast is possible. It looks like a rather strong flu and, indeed, the first symptoms are those of a virulent fever. [2] I’m learning while staying on the stage of these events and I’m quite puzzled. I remember the SARS, the aviary flu and the terrifying ‘mad cow disease’ in the early 2000s (in Italy). Probably, you too, you are experiencing a sense of déjà-vu. Every death makes a sensation, every new case spreads chaos. But with our hands on statistics, COVID-19 is faster than SARS but kills less. [3, 4]
As I write this, humans turn into numbers, and I lose my humanity and sorrow. Do we deserve this?


In conclusion, if we haven’t created the problem, we certainly gave a hand or even two! I refresh my memory of that Leonardo Express journey. On my way to Roma Termini, my attention is mesmerised by another detail along with that visual masquerade. A message passes via the speakers in all carriages reminding a decalogue recently released by the Ministry of Health. It’s about 10 golden rules to fight seasonal flu and the new coronavirus

‘So, it’s not much of a difference!’ - I thought to myself when I first heard the message. 



Amadeus, a famous TV personality, has recently presented the Italian music festival (San Remo). His popularity earned him to be the face of the Ministerial campaign.


I’m surprised by the way I laugh in serious circumstances. I’ve been seeing similar informative pieces so many times in UK public toilets. Flyers with instruction on ‘how to wash your hands’ with step-by-step illustration, and reminders to ‘wash your hands’ because ‘cough and sneezes spread diseases’. Honestly, I was taking the piss of those papers for a long time! Is that necessary to remind of something so basic? Probably yes, if a flu-like disease is spreading terror, and I recently read about planning ‘mass burials’ in the UK to be ready for the contagion. This escalation is probably too much. [5]


But now I think: ‘Where are those helpful posters in Italy?’ At your doctor’s and pharmacy…

Don’t you know you have to cover your mouth when you sneeze or cough? Probably not, but you should have. It is a matter of hygiene and good manners.

Don’t you know you have to wash your hands frequently? If not, you’re a filthy pig.

Don’t you know you have to park you bum in your bed if you got the flu? You should do it. You can’t play the hero and go to work. You won’t work with a melting brain and runny nose, anyway!



During my recent trip to Italy, I travelled around in the guise of the reporter, and I noticed the many flaws of the Italian system. The restrain of the virus seems to work on the internal level, even thou the infiltration still occurs, and the State has a pretty inconsistent control towards the South. Safety procedures are literally null with the mass leaving the Country. If my body has been scanned on my arrival, there were no barriers, checks or queues before my departure. No wonder if one of the first cases in the UK arrived from Northern Italy [6] and flights to and from Italy get suspended [7].


If the State can’t wholly stem the ‘Coronavirus’ threat, mass media adds fuel to the fire. In this country of chatters and charlatans, socials and TV are the primary sources of disinformation, hence the hysteria. I’m not afraid to say that the worse disease is the so-called ‘tuttologia’ (literally ‘know-it-all-ology’) and, unfortunately, there’s no cure for that.



Valentina Chirico


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