What Happens in Italy: Let’s Not Talk about Coronavirus Epidemic but Italian Style of Reaction

People rather tend to believe in bad, than in good. — Giovanni Boccaccio

When everyone pays attention to the epidemic status in Asia, a far distant continent, Italy, is suddenly in the global spotlight because of its rapidly increasing number of confirmed cases of Coronavirus. The case number jumped from 16 cases to 80 cases in a day. Sooner or later, the number reaches 100 cases and now became over 1000 cases. Italy sealed off 12 towns in Lombardy and Veneto to avoid the spread of the epidemic. The Carnival in Venice was closed earlier than usual, the Fashion Week in Milan has been impacted and the Seria A is suspended as well. Italy’s neighborhoods now are worried about themselves as it is obvious that the virus has arrived in the European continent secretly.

I had stayed in Venice for half-year and studied Italian language and culture as my major subject. I love this country but sometimes it is also annoying. The following are my observations about the Italian style of reaction when they confront the Coronavirus.

Infodemic. Everyone makes the decision according to the news by the media now. After the outbreak of the Coronavirus in Italy, hundreds of news related to the epidemic are reported with the number of confirmed cases in the titles each day, such as “Coronavirus, 374 cases in Italia” or “Coronavirus: 21 dies and over 800 confirmed cases in Italy.” There usually isn’t any decent content or studies in the news, in fact, among the death cases, most of them are elderly, the reason of dying could be other health issues, not just because of the virus. The infodemic not only causes panic but also misleads people. What the scientists truly suggests might be ignored by people. Recently, more and more Italian netizens also mention this problem and urge to stop this panic when the news comes out.

Italian optimism and panic. I am always surprised by Italians’ optimism but also shocked by their panic. After the first confirmed cases in Rome one month ago, the president, Giuseppe Conte, announced to suspend the direct flights to/from China, the locals clapped and shouted bravo. They go to work and bar after 6 PM and greet people in an enthusiastic way as usual. However, after 3 weeks, another case was confirmed in Codogno in Lombardy and after a day, the cases number increased crazily in this region. The towns in Lombardy were locked down and the schools are also closed until March. It is interesting that there are two different reactions to Italians. Some of them still believe it is like flu, which should just be more serious, and that more people died because of other diseases. On the contrary, other people started panic buying and stocking up the daily necessities. From the pictures sent by friends, the shelves of pasta in the supermarkets are almost empty. An elderly even says people were not so panicky at all during World Wars after coming out from the supermarket in a video. I somehow believe what this elderly describes, as it is not easy to throw the Italians into a panic.

Irrational discrimination. The discrimination cannot eliminate the virus, it can only cause the conflict. One of the bad experiences I had when staying in Italy was harassment by their younger people. Not all young people will do so, but only the ignorant ones. They usually walk on the street as a group. As long as you ignore them, nothing will happen. Recently, it seems that doesn’t work. Firstly, I will divide the discriminatory actions into 3 levels. The first level is the slightest one, they will whistle at you. The second one is that they will speak Chinese in an impolite way or try to frighten you. The third level would be verbal abuse and harassment in action. Now, discrimination not only happens to Chinese but also extends to all Asians and the level develops to the verbal and actual abuse, which occurs often. Some Asians are asked to leave the country, even if they have lived in Italy for a whole life. Still, I believe only a few people are irrational, and that there are still lots of rational and reasonable ones.

Italy is the first European country that announced the suspension of the direct flights. Most of the countries in the EU were shocked by their decision, but in my opinion, it is understandable as tourism is one of the main industries in Italy. According to Statista, the contribution of travel and tourism to the Italian economy is constantly growing and is predicted to reach 57.9 billion euros by 2029. In order to maintain this enormous income, I think that’s the reason why the Italian government announced this policy. However, does it really work?

Spending on international tourists in Italy from 2014 to 2029 (in billion euros)

The good news is that the Italian government tries to test more patients to understand the whole picture of the epidemic. They are also using their style to promote the precautions of preventing the virus, like the “The Granny’s Suggestions” which is viewed by millions of netizens around the world. According to the Italian granny’s advice, during this period, we have to avoid the “kiss” and “hug” because it is dangerous, even though it’s their courtesy when greeting people. On the other hand, the conceptions of using face masks are different in the western and oriental countries. Some Italians don’t put on the face masks, as they believe only the people who are really sick would need them and if you are really sick, you should stay home and not go to work. However, in order to protect ourselves well, we should consider putting on the face mask when we go to a crowded place since it is confirmed that this virus is transmitted via droplet.

We are still not sure how long this epidemic will last. The most serious epidemic happened in the Lombardy, Veneto and Emilia Romania. It’s said that the economic impact would be obvious in Italy, especially in Lombardy and Veneto. Since Lombardy ranks as the first economic region in Italy and Milan is the well-known center for design, finance, and business. Veneto is the third-largest regional economy. Venice, which is recognized for its cultural icons and attracts over 20 million tourists each year, is the capital city of this region. In fact, the plague in northern Italy, which was already an important center of the trade routes throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance, happens in 1630 and also influenced the population in Milan and Venice. The Italian economy this year is definitely a slowdown.

It’s unquestionably a tough year for Italians but also for the people around the world. People’s fear of Coronavirus is because of the unknown. Besides, what I concern about more about the outbreak of epidemic in Italy and other countries is the conflict between nationalities. Even if the centuries passed, the pessimistic side of human nature during the Black Death that Boccaccio described in Decameron still exists. The Coronavirus will pass, but the discrimination will last, there is no vaccine to cure it. What we don’t need and what is useless to fight against the epidemic is discrimination. This time, we should attempt to think positively instead and take the Italian granny’s wisdom to fight against the virus.

Coronavirus (COVID-19) cases in Italy as of March 4, 2020, by region

(Reference: How could Coronavirus impact Italy’s economy?, Coronavirus in Europe: Epidemic or ‘infodemic’?)

Seeker of knowledge, equality under uncertainty and happiness.

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