Update from Italy: Thursday, March 12

Photo by Oskar Kadaksoo on Unsplash

Your local reporter on the ground in lockdown is back with today’s update from Florence. Of course, even more news happened last night after I posted for a second time. Jason woke me up overnight twice to let me know what was happening, first the Conte presser (Italy), and then the Trump fireside chat (small hours here).

Measures here are escalating more and more quickly as Italy works to contain the spread of COVID-19. Schools and all centers of instruction closed a week ago today. Sunday morning, the geographic Red Zone was increased a little bit, and some activities were curtailed; by Monday, it was the whole country; on Wednesday, all retail businesses had to close, including bars, restaurants, salons, and so on. The Italians here seem determined and calm. Everyone seems to be is accepting what is happening, and what needs to happen to avoid worst-case scenarios. The city is vacant, its citizens behind closed doors at home, talking, reading, and ideally drinking a lot of espresso and red wine.

In the meantime, and as commented in my second post yesterday, Italian cases were up 25% and fatalities 35%. Do some quick math – incubation is 2 to 27 days; patients could be sick for a few days before pockets in the lungs begin to form and fill with liquid. Italy had 1,128 total positive cases less than two weeks ago. There are now about 12,500. To be fair, Italy is very proactively testing and referring the seriously ill to hospitals. But those hospitals are at capacity, and have been, certainly in Lombardy (the wealthiest region of the EU) since March 2, when numbers really started ramping up. (Remember their initial cluster of 15 patients was identified on February 21, exactly three weeks ago.) There are many active cases in Italy right now. There will be more. Millions are in effective quarantine. There will be further fatalities.

I don’t like any of this, but it is the case. I feel in Italy we may be still in our first quarter to third of the curve. In any case, we are basically at a social standstill until April 6, which is the earliest possible date that life might return to normal. I am proud of the Italian response. The country has pulled together and adjusted quickly to the new normal, without enacting martial law. Theirs is a sane social response to this public health crisis.

Which brings me to the response from the rest of the world. COVID-19 is now in more than 100 countries. China is tapering off and closing all their emergency hospitals (remember when they were setting those up, six weeks ago?) Taiwan and Japan seem to be bearing up well. Germany is being realistic and preparing. France seems stuck at half-measures. Brits are buying all the loo rolls, much like their American cousins.

I did not watch the Trumpside Chat personally. I was surprised at first at the travel sanctions, but then thought, you know, this makes sense for Americans. People must limit and delay travel until this brush fire of a virus has finished burning across the earth. Americans thus far have proven less than willing to do that. Airfare bottoming out? Empty planes? Deserted airports? Sign me up! Some form of this commentary was all over my social media this week. Don’t go don’t go please don’t make the trip I begged people I knew, people I didn’t know, and yet so many people seemed to be making the trips! If you are travelling during this time, you are displaying a willingness to be a carrier for a possibly fatal virus for which there is no vaccination or cure. There are decisions worth more than lost money. This is one of them.

And for everyone bemoaning the new reality of the bear market, it’s ok. It’ll make it back, eventually. And if you get through this, you’ll be alive and handsome, so think about that.

In Italy, we’re about one week ahead of Seattle, five or six weeks behind China here. Friends, friends. Postpone your travel. Work from home if possible. Take a breath, back up your medicine and your groceries, please stop freaking out about toilet paper. Get some books, if you can, and prepare yourself. Side note, I realize that America also presently suffers from breathtaking wealth inequality and income and employment insecurity, and I am well aware of the particular challenges presented by those dynamics. These issues are ignored in the coming weeks at the peril of the population, and will need to be scrutinized looked at realistically after the dust clears, and after we get our own Richard III off his stage. But right now, America, you are looking down the barrel. How are you going to help your communities get through this?