FORMER Stratford resident Liz Long is facing her third week of lockdown in her new home in the Italian city of Modena.
Liz, 55, went to Aylesford School and grew up in Snitterfield. She left the UK in the 1990s to work as an English teacher, got married and has children, Giulia, 16, and Massimo, 14.
Here she offers her first-hand account of life in the worst-hit European country.
What’s it like day to day?
Life has transferred entirely to within the house – school lessons online, work done remotely, recreation and entertainment indoors. It’s a way of slowing down significantly. On the positive side, you have to keep yourself busy but it’s nice to take your time to do things with the family.
Are there deaths in your community?
As of 21st March, in my city Modena, 906 infected and 11 dead.
How does lockdown work?
You can go to work, shop or move for emergencies and you have to make a declaration to the police or armed forces if stopped. They can fine you and this will go on your criminal record as a crime against the state. Everyone has the piece of paper in their possession when they move. Only three people max in the car at one time, masks recommended.
How do you cope?
No great community spirit, more of a national Italian spirit – people singing from balconies, flash-mob activities, online activities. Communication has switched to social media.
Was the Italian response laid back or was there genuine concern from the start?
Culturally speaking, Italians are more concerned with their health in general – somewhat hypochondriac by British standards – and with a huge ageing population there is massive concern about safeguarding the health of the elderly or vulnerable. That base concept is the driving force beyond the state’s action in locking down the nation.
Initially people worked more or less as normal, just keeping their distance a bit, and then schools closed. Then people were advised to work from home. Essential movement like food shopping, movement for going to a chemist or for health reasons or essential work is allowed but now no non-essential going out is allowed – a walk in the park, even “distanced”, is not allowed, no sport, no outdoor activities/gatherings. Dog walking just around the block only. In fact, even the parks have been closed since Friday and as from 22nd March manufacturing has been halted if not essential production. So gradually everything has come to a standstill and there is nothing you can do about it. Just sit tight.
Unfortunately, there will be, naturally, huge consequences for the economy but the priority now is containing the virus spread. Health of the nation first, save lives, then think about the economic health of the country.
How is the Italian health service coping?
Honestly, I really think the Italian health service is very good and the medical community/health workers at all levels have been fantastic and untiring in dealing with the cases. The way a country deals with the epidemic is fundamental.
What you advise to help reduce risk?
Just do what you are told to do and don’t go out and about unless strictly necessary. It helps having a garden or living in the countryside. It is harder in a city. You have to make lifestyle adjustments and keep most things inside, like doing exercise – even that isn’t allowed in the open air since they have closed the parks and places where people congregate. Also, there is no point in bulk-buying or stockpiling: supermarkets, at least here anyway, are always well stocked. At the beginning I only saw empty shelves of certain things – flour, tomato sauce, olive oil and fresh vegetables.
Are you scared?
It’s hard to be scared when the enemy is invisible and you have very limited contact with anyone outside your immediate family face to face. The statistics and media coverage can be very heavy – you can only take so much of it. None of my immediate family have had any symptoms but we haven’t really been out and about for a while. This way, you feel like you are making a contribution. It is hard to abstain from going out, but you also have to look long-term.
I have been here for nearly 30 years, waiting for my citizenship application to be approved, which I submitted two years ago in order to get some security over here in light of Brexit. I teach English at the local university. As from 23rd March I do all my lessons online from home. My children have been at home since 23rd February. After a slow start, the schools have geared themselves up to digital teaching, so my children, aged 14 and 16, do lessons in the morning and I do mine in the afternoon. However, most people have been allowed to work from home for the last two weeks, since all the schools from nursery upwards closed. It is stressful for families not having help with young children and having to work from home. My mantra is, just do what you can – it’s an emergency situation.
Any message for people in Stratford?
I just hope that people will all start following the guidelines and staying at home, however tempting it is to go out and circulate. Listen to the health experts. The virus is highly contagious and, as China has shown, only by blocking the chance of infection can we avoid a truly tragic situation. I say look out for the elderly and people with poor health, wash hands, avoid contact with surfaces in public places and don’t let people get too isolated. Isolation of communities seems to be a deterrent but being alone can take its toll. Communicate with people who live alone.