CORONA IN ITALIA – Lockdown!

– Aurelio Porfiri

One of the things that I am proud of is about being Roman. And not only of being Roman, but also of being born and raised in the heart of Rome, where true Rome can be felt. I live in an area that usually overflows with tourists, because of its historical importance: beautiful churches, fountains, monuments and good restaurants. So we can say that tourists and Romans are always glad to spend their weekends at the place where I live. The best day at the restaurants is usually Saturday night. Let us talk about it.

My family used to dispose of the garbage on Saturday nights, because the trash containers, a five-minute walk from where I live, are available from 8 pm everyday. We could choose to go another day, but we chose Saturday night because I like to feel the vibe, the pulse of the movida. But on going out last Saturday night, I had the impression of being in a spectral city: there was only me. Everything was closed and there was no one on the street. What had happened? Everyone obviously already knew. The infamous coronavirus is affecting Italy tremendously, with close to 20,000 infected, and the government in the first weeks of March decided to put the whole country on lockdown.

One can go out only for very urgent reasons. All ceremonies and events have been cancelled and schools have been closed. I never thought I would live through a situation like this in my life, an epidemic or a pandemic situation, as they call it now. I remember September 11, the days of terrorism in Italy and many other important events, but it seems to me that now we are beyond that, also because we live in a world that is completely different from that of a few decades ago. I am sure that this pandemic would be a lasting memory for this generation, and kids that can make some sense of what is happening will tell the story when they grow old. 

It’s not easy being a grownup. I want to give you my example. These days I am affected by a very annoying medical problem (nothing to do with coronavirus) that needs treatment or can degenerate in ways that are really unpredictable. But one cannot go to hospitals, because of course these are the most dangerous places where you can catch the virus. Neither can we go to our family doctor, because according to the new regulations he or she can be reached only by phone to avoid being exposed to patients with coronavirus. We cannot even look for private doctors because not all of them open their clinics. So what do I do? Imagine how many people are affected with medical conditions more serious and more urgent than mine and maybe they are old, they have no one caring for them, they are frail. You can only go outdoors by filling out a form where you state why you are going out and there are only four reasons that the police would accept. Seeking medical treatment is one of them. But where? I have found a doctor who is helping me come out of this very delicate personal situation, but I have to tell you that every time I go to his place, I have the impression that everyone looks at me in the same way I look at them, as a threat.

Adding to all of this, the Vicar of Rome Cardinal Angelo de Donatis, on March 12th, decreed that the churches of Rome should all be closed. The reason of course was to dissuade people from gathering together at one place and helping the spread of the coronavirus. So all the public Masses were suspended and we were dispensed from the obligation to attend Mass on Sundays. This is effective until the beginning of April.

The next day there was another decree that in a certain way “corrected” the previous one, and that wanted at least the parishes to be open. That was maybe due to the fact that the Pope in the meantime had said that too drastic measures are not good. In any case, not being able to go out, I don’ t see how people can even enter the parish church these days, but this is another matter.

For the Vatican itself there are huge changes in ceremonies and public events: Angelus and Wednesday audiences are now recorded indoors with no faithful in attendance (also because Saint Peter’s Basilica and Square are also closed).  There was also another announcement these days: the Prefecture for the Pontifical House has decided that all the ceremonies for the Holy Week and Easter celebrated by the Pope will be behind closed doors and not open to the public. Needless to say, these moves have created lots of debate in public opinion. Conservative Catholics, who usually had more sensitivity for all things pertaining to the liturgy, were also divided. I read of some prominent commentators coming from this kind of world who said that it is not responsible to ask people to attend religious events and ceremonies when danger is present. And they have a point, if you consider that especially in the West, the demographic of people attending Masses is usually the one of the elderly folk, not the younger ones. And we know that the coronavirus is more dangerous for elderly people than for younger ones. So it is not strange that the Vatican leadership wants to protect the faithful from being exposed to the gathering of many people that may cause them harm. I know of priests who offered to visit houses to bring the Eucharist. This is laudable and I say this in full admiration for these priests. Also, here, there is another side to the coin. If priests go here and there, they may become a vehicle for the virus. The fear is certainly rampant and I cannot say that is under control.

We mentioned Lombardy before, the area most affected by this coronavirus. They are really struggling with thousands of infected people and some of them in need of intensive care, an assistance that they can be given only up to a certain point. So my country is really in an emergency situation, and as someone has said, it is a war.

I informed people around the world about the situation prevailing here, and especially my acquaintances in Macau and in Hong Kong, they always said to me that Italy is now what they were one month ago. Of course and for obvious reasons, I follow closely what was happening in Macau and Hong Kong from the beginning, and I have to say that probably here is that the situation is less under control. But at the moment I am writing these lines, other countries seem to be also beginning to be heavily affected by this virus, such as Spain, France, Germany, Great Britain and the USA.  The strategy that seems to be implemented by the UK has been the subject of heavy criticism.  They have decided that the best approach was to develop an “herd immunity,” letting the virus circulate freely so that the people can acquire immunity from it. The premier Boris Johnson has said that people have to be prepared to lose their dear ones. I don’t think that that kind of idea or strategy would ever be accepted. Indeed, turning back to Italy, there was a strong debate that came to light that suggested that, because of the impossibility of assisting everyone, when there is a choice between a younger person and an older one, the younger person would be favored and the older one be allowed to follow his destiny. I have tried to write this in the nicest possible way, but it sounds terrible. When we arrive at a point when people who work all their life, contribute to the state with their taxes, have families that care for them, are basically left to die because there is no other choice, it means we are beyond what is acceptable. A Catholic should be shattered by something of this magnitude, because it is not human. But the problems that create this kind of solution are unfortunately real and the solutions are still not readily available.

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