Italy’s Agony

Federica Dadone reports on the coronavirus crisis in her home country and argues that it has exposed so many deep problems in Italian society.

13 April 2020.



The UK is now in the equivalent to the ‘second phase’ of the Italian quarantine. Italy itself is now in the third (a second emergency law on 9 March having extended the lockdown to the whole country).

The Italian Government is now implementing much harsher measures than the World Health Organisation has recommended. This raises some major issues.

The first is the big spike in depression, anxiety, suicide attempts, and domestic violence. The lockdown might be necessary, but the ‘cure’ to the pandemic spreading will inevitably have major consequences – and for some people, those consequences will be fatal.

People are of course going bat-shit crazy, but these measures are feeding a ‘hunt for the bad people’ mentality. Some people are taking pictures from their windows of other people taking a walk alone, or with their kids, or running, and posting them on social media portraying them as the ‘enemies of the people’ who risk infecting others.

The real reason the virus spread like wildfire is that non-essential factories only closed on 25 March, much later than they should have done. In the meantime they became huge breeding grounds for the virus. Workers who wanted to stay at home were at risk of losing their job. And they had to take overcrowded trains and buses to go to work because transport was working at reduced capacity – exactly what’s happening in London. And most of them weren’t provided with the protective gear to make the workplace safe.

That’s also one of the reasons why Northern Italy was so badly affected. It’s where most of the big factories are. Big industrial corporations bullied the government into not shutting their businesses down. There is blood on the hands of the industrialists.

But many ordinary people are turning on each other – shouting at people walking their dog one extra block, and calling on the army to come and ‘take control of the situation’.

As much as I think the Italian government is now probably doing the best it can, the emergency laws are vague and open to interpretation, leaving room for the police to implement them the way they choose.

Police power and social inequality

The police are fining and pressing charges against people who are ‘out without good reason’. Maybe some are. But I suspect many were not. The official data show that the overwhelming majority of citizens are following the rules and doing what they’re supposed to. But the narrative on social media, and even the mainstream media, is ‘nobody cares: they’re all out doing what they want’. This alleged ‘pandemic of selfishness’ is deeply reactionary.

The lockdown is stripping naked the inequality of our society. It’s a class matter. It’s a race matter. It’s not the same being quarantined in a nice apartment, with a balcony or a garden, as against being cooped up in two-bedroom flat with two kids and no sunshine. It’s not the same being in a neighbourhood where you have access to any service you need within walking distance, as against being cut off and isolated. It is in the working-class suburbs of the big Italian cities that the suffering is concentrated.

Italy tests more than the UK, but it also depends on the regions. (The health system is managed by every region differently.) There are issues with comparing different countries’ numbers, but also with comparing different regions’ counts within Italy. That’s why we’re so worried about the virus spreading in the south. It will be a massacre. They can’t cope.

All my friends in Lombardy say the numbers are definitely higher there than the official figures. There is no way they are ‘so low’. I have heard so many stories of old people dying in their homes alone and their bodies just being taken away. I suspect they don’t end up in official statistics.

People with symptoms are calling the emergency number and nobody picks up, so they just self isolate and hope for the best.

So many doctors and nurses are dying. It breaks my heart. The deaths are a combination of COVID-19 and the lack of protective gear for all of them, as well as the huge stress of being horribly overworked in very emotionally upsetting situations.

The lack of PPE in the richest part of the country is especially worrying. Health workers are overexposed and they are all getting sick. They are calling back doctors from retirement, hiring students, and calling for help from NGOs, Cuba, Venezuela …

Federica Dadone is an Italian living and working in London who is active in Mutiny.

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