Lessons from Life in Coronavirus Lockdown in Italy

Living in the Aosta Valley, the smallest and northwesternmost region of Italy, surrounded by some of the highest mountains in the Alps, always feels like a privileged situation to be in. But as the Coronavirus took hold in the north of the country through the later part of February and into the start of March, we started to feel a little more vulnerable. 

Our family of three, me, my wife, and our 8-year-old daughter (plus my in-laws who live upstairs), are fairly well integrated into life over here. We enjoy the ability to drive to France for the day, or down to the Mediterranean in the summer. 

We do a lot of skiing in the winter and spend a lot of time in the mountains generally. As well as running the First Aid Training Co-operative (FATC), I work in the mountain bike industry, guiding groups in the summer, and building mountain bike trails year-round, all over Europe.

Gradually, as the situation in Lombardy worsened, these freedoms were taken away. I had to put my current trail project in Sicily on hold as traveling there via a northern Italian airport didn’t seem like a good idea.

Our plan to travel to Scotland for a few days at the start of March for the FATC Annual General Meeting didn’t seem like the responsible thing to do either. Technically we could have gone, but it just didn’t feel right – a decision that proved to be excellent just a few days later when the schools closed. Being stuck in Scotland while our daughter was here with her grandparents would have been pretty stressful for all concerned.

Lockdown

Rather than being in Scotland then, we were here as the lockdown was gradually enforced more stringently each day. Initially, we naively thought we’d just go skiing, resorts were still open to help the tourism industry, but then they closed. 

We thought we’d go ski-touring instead then, but then the reality of the pressure that the emergency services were increasingly under started to dawn on everyone. Putting yourself in a potentially risky situation, or one that would need a lot of resources to rescue you should the worst happen, was not the responsible thing to do

Over the next few days, the severity of the situation became increasingly apparent. A full lockdown was announced late in the evening on Monday 11th March. The Italian Government Decree allows for leaving the house only under very specific circumstances from that moment onwards. The permitted circumstances are:

  • To go to the supermarket or pharmacy. These are the only two shops open more or less. You must shop alone (1 person per household), and the supermarket has a 1 in 1 out rule to avoid overcrowding. Whilst in the shop, you must respect social distancing, and a surreal, almost eery quiet pervades. People go in, get what they need, and leave. No panic, no fuss and certainly no empty shelves. Just orderly calm – definitely surreal in a typically gregarious country!
  • To carry out essential work that cannot be done from home. Everyone else is either working from home or not working.
  • To exercise. This should be done alone, in a low-risk way, and you mustn’t congregate with anyone who is not from your immediate household. Getting some exercise is encouraged, but must also be done within your immediate local area. The play parks, cycle paths, etc are all closed to prevent people congregating. They appreciate that getting outside to stretch your legs is important, but don’t sanction much more than that. 

To leave the house, you need to have a completed form with you, explaining why you are out of the house. The police are issuing fines and pressing criminal charges against anyone who does not adhere, and this fairly draconian approach does seem to work. The streets are very quiet.

UPDATE: The Valle d’Aosta region has now banned all outdoor exercise too in a further effort to limit the spread. Unfortunately, too many people were bending the rules and region seems to be paying the price for leaving ski resorts open and inviting people in from all over Italy, for several days after the foreign tourists left. 

Life in Lockdown

Life suddenly becomes pretty simple when you have nowhere to be. There are no school runs, no playdates to arrange, no swimming lessons to be on time for. Initially, it felt like we had all the time in the world and our daughter certainly, and understandably, assumed she was on holiday!

The schools took a week to get organized, but fairly quickly managed to get work sent out digitally and home-schooling became a reality. Our daughter has yet to fully accept this, but by giving her ownership of her schedule and ‘lessons’, we’re managing to keep to something of a routine, which I think is essential. We’re following her normal school schedule as much as possible, whilst accepting that we have to all be a bit flexible.

In one sense we are well equipped to deal with much of life in lockdown. My wife and I work from home normally (when I’m ‘office-based’), so we are well set up for home working. Our daughter has her grandparents upstairs who provide a distraction and change of scene. And the sun shines most days, which helps with general positivity.

We don’t have a garden as such, but we take a family walk each afternoon Luckily our flat is within easy reach of some nice short walks, without leaving our Comune – so we’re not breaking any rules. (UPDATE: as above, not any more we don’t. We now sit on the balcony while the sun sets!) My wife and I try to get some exercise each day, a run (not any longer!), a cycle on the static trainer in the garage, or some yoga in the flat – exercise is essential for my state of mind, so anything I can do to feel like I’m not losing fitness is really important to me. 

We’ve tried to video call our friends and family as much as possible too. We had a virtual aperitivo with friends who we normally meet in the town center, and our daughter speaks to her friends on FaceTime when we can arrange it. We are indeed all in this together so sharing the day’s experiences is helpful, as is the social aspect, even if it’s one step removed.

There have also been some fun community initiatives that have started on social media. Singing from balconies at 6 PM, shining torches at 9 PM some nights, and encouraging all kids stuck at home to craft a rainbow poster with “Andrà tutto bene” (“All will be well”) written on it. These are great fun, and help to break up the days.

Andrà Tutto Bene

“Time flies when you’re having fun”. I have to say that time passes slowly when in lockdown. Not necessarily in a negative way, but it feels like we’ve been doing this for weeks already when in reality it’s just over a week. 

I guess it’s the new normal, we’re not bored, there is always loads to do if you think positively about how to use the extra time you have, and we remind ourselves constantly that it could be a lot worse. That it is for a huge number of people is a sobering thought.

Light at the End of the Tunnel?

No one knows how long this will continue, but we are fully expecting it to be for another month. I think that mentally it’s best to manage expectations in this way, either personal expectations or those of the family group. Sure, sometimes you need a little space, (I spent a long time tidying the garage a few days ago…), but as long we have mutual respect and understanding of the situation that everyone is in, it can work.

We are also constantly reminded and reflect on the fact that it appears to be the only way to beat the virus. We don’t know any better so we have to respect the advice of the experts, to do otherwise would be extremely irresponsible.

We all have goals in mind for the year ahead, whether conscious publicized goals for business, sporting events, or similar. Or subconscious goals, things we’re keeping in mind that we’d like to do. 

I feel like this year, we just need to postpone those personal goals for the good of the community at large, and reign in our expectations of career or business goals – adapt to the new reality of 2020, survive this few months, take stock, and start again. 

Tips, Resources, And Other Useful Links to Help You and Your Business Through Lockdown

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