SOAVE – Italian Premier Giuseppe Conte's decision to lock down the entire country brought some welcome clarity to my family life after weeks of growing uncertainty about how to behave in a time of coronavirus.
I live that stereotype of the multi-generational Italian family, next door to in-laws, both over 80 and suffering from a collection of non-debilitating ailments common for their age. I also live with two teenagers, one of whom in particular has chafed against any suggestion that his social life should be curtailed just when the virus has freed him from that age-old adolescent burden: school.
So as I continued to commute to my job as an Associated Press correspondent based in Milan, the capital of Lombardy, from a small town in neighboring Veneto, the virus seemed both near and far.
Near, because the two regions were quickly identified as hot spots with growing numbers of infections and two so-called red zones — but far, because no one we knew was sick, and many of the restrictions were still theoretical. They boiled down to frequent hand-washing.
Virus fear escalated in mid-February as I covered Milan Fashion Week, shoulder-to-shoulder with fashion types from all over the globe, and where the closing show by Giorgio Armani was streamed without an audience as a precaution. But the closest cluster — not yet a red zone — was still an hour away.
As the first restrictions took effect in Veneto and Lombardy — closing schools, museums, cinemas and bars after 6 p.m. — we scoffed at the reactive panic shopping. What were people doing with all that toilet paper? We had flour and pasta aplenty at home. And who needs a shopping cart full of bottled water? The taps weren’t being turned off.
The first day of the new measures was supposed to be the start of a three-day family break for Carnival in Nice, on the coast in neighboring France. But our sociable son woke up with a fever and stomach flu symptoms, and we decided it was better not to chance crossing the border as Italy became a focal point in coronavirus coverage.
Normally we would have gone, stomach flu or not, and instructed the teen to sleep in the car, reasoning that the sea air would do him good. The painful decision to cancel seemed particularly wise after hearing reports of Italian cars being stopped in France for temperature checks. Imagine being found out transporting a feverish 16-year-old: the personal horror, the probable headlines.