I was stopped by the police a few days ago. Well, not stopped. Checked. As I was waiting to enter a grocery store.
It was early, only twenty minutes since the store had opened, and already there was a small crowd of shoppers clinging to paper numbers. Ten, maybe fifteen? Hard to tell. Certainly more than I expected on a chilly, windy, and overcast day. But, okay, I took my number and leaned up against the wall, at least 6 feet between me and the next person. A store that size allows two, maybe three people in a time. Even with these folks ahead of me, how long could this take?
And then the police arrived. I had easily been waiting maybe thirty minutes by that time but upon seeing the police, I considered leaving. Just turning and walking down the street in the opposite direction. But hey, I had my paperwork with me, I had already invested a good chunk of time, and I really hoped the store would have oatmeal.
(In case you missed this detail: any time you leave your home, you must have a completed form with you indicating the reason you are out. Italy is now on a fifth version of this form. You are only allowed to leave your house for work, a doctor’s appointment, an emergency, or to buy food and essential needs. If found violating the quarantine rules, you can be fined a minimum of 400 euros and as much as 3,000! Police have charged over 52,000 people with quarantine violations – and that’s a number reported sixteen days ago! Did you see the videos of Italian mayors yelling at citizens to stay home? Funny but true. Italy is taking this very seriously.)
The female officer approached me. When she realized I couldn’t understand her Italian, she summoned the male officer. I took a deep breath. Reminded myself I had no reason to worry. He looked at my form and watched as I pulled out a copy of my passport.
“You live in America? Or you live here?” I tried to explain that I was here when the country went on lockdown.
“But why are you here now?”
That’s the question I was dreading. It’s a good question. Why am I?
“I think it is safer to stay in quarantine than to travel.” That’s the truth. He looked at me. He didn’t smile. But he seemed to say okay. And, I suppose, upon reflection, it’s probably nice to hear that a foreigner thinks your country is handling the crisis better than your home country. Did I say that? No. But it’s easy to imagine that’s what he thought. That, or at least he was pleased I had my paperwork.
Then the female officer pointed out my shopping list on the back of my form. He nodded and walked me over to a car where he proceeded to write out a new form for me, with all my information, so I could have my list back for shopping. Well that was pretty darn nice! After I assured him I was only waiting to enter that store and then pick up some produce on the corner, we both signed the form and that was that. The store called out the next number, the officer looked at the ticket in my hand, shrugged and smiled.
It was another 30 minutes or so before I realized the store was calling out for #39 to enter. My number was 54. I had been there well over an hour. Waiting with a constantly shifting crowd in the street and lined up against buildings. Chances are they didn’t carry the oatmeal I so desperately wanted. The wait would likely be at least another hour. My head was aching. It was raining lightly. And honestly, I was still a bit unnerved by the police interaction, as pleasant as it was. I can get eggs anywhere, I thought. So I left.
The next time I left the house, I experienced the same wait at a different grocery store. Easily an hour. This time instead of just getting eggs, I planned ahead: I now have two bottles of wine. Ah, the necessities!
Alright, that’s my story but here’s what I really want to tell you:
Italy now has over 21,815 people who have recovered from the coronavirus. That’s a quarter more than the 15,887 mortalities. Their daily infections and deaths have been on a downward trend for over a week and those in intensive care has finally dropped. The reproductive number is now-finally- at 1 (from 3) and the target is to get it even lower. On the other hand, on April 3, it was reported that the real number of Covid-19 cases in Italy could be 5 million. Five million!! In a country with a population of only sixty million. Meanwhile, the stay-at-home order has been extended until April 13. Perhaps most importantly, it’s estimated that 30,000 lives have been saved by adhering to the lockdown measures.
A friend wanted to know what Italians think of how the U.S. is responding to the pandemic. So I asked the few that I know here in Italy. Their overwhelming response? Americans are not taking this seriously.
“Americans are not taking this seriously enough. Don’t panic and don’t go out. Eat, cook, relax, read a book. It is important to stay happy and healthy. The quarantine won’t last forever. Meanwhile, Stay Home!!”
Please, friends, I hope you’ll listen to the Italians. And encourage others to shelter-in-place too. Because the truth is, I do want to come home.