Italy: Life in the center of a viral storm
Lombardy now resembles a war zone, said Lettera 43 in an editorial. This wealthy northern region is the epicenter of Italy’s coronavirus outbreak, and its intensive-care wards are packed with thousands of patients suffering from the respiratory illness. When one ventilator becomes free—because a patient has died or recovered—doctors must make a life-and-death decision about who should be hooked up to the machine. Younger people have better odds of survival, and so some hospitals are no longer ventilating coronavirus patients over age 60. The death toll in Lombardy is accelerating rapidly—more than 1,200 people had died by the start of this week, and the figure was going up by a few hundred every day—as is the caseload. At the Pope John XXIII Hospital in the city of Bergamo, doctors “work tirelessly, intubating seven people a day and resting one day out of every 14.” But they are not superhuman. In Bergamo and the surrounding area, at least 71 health-care workers have come down with the virus.
To understand the scale of the suffering, said Alessandra Ferrara in Switzerland’s Tio.ch, consider that the newspaper L’Eco di Bergamo now has 11 pages of death notices. There used to be only one page. Crematoriums are working at capacity, and the morgues are full. In the city of Brescia, the bishop has begun identifying empty churches he can use “to shelter the remains awaiting burial.” Funeral services have been banned along with all other gatherings. “Many now realize they said goodbye to their relatives for the last time when they were taken to the hospital.”
Lombardy feels abandoned, said Sandro Neri in Il Giorno. The whole of Italy is under lockdown, with all schools and artistic events canceled and most bars and restaurants closed. But the region most affected by the coronavirus “has found itself alone in the fight against an aggressive enemy, without government support.” Authorities in Lombardy are desperately trying to build an extra field hospital—as the Chinese did in Wuhan—and the civil defense corps was supposed to provide beds and equipment, but it has been slow. The 200,000 masks it did send were not hospital-grade and had to be thrown out. “What they sent us was like a handkerchief, a sheet of toilet paper,” said Lombardy’s senior health official, Giulio Gallera. And since the crisis began several weeks ago, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and his ministers have barely set foot here.
Ordinary Italians are bravely trying to make the best of their confinement, said Gaia Scorza Barcellona in La Repubblica. Using “music as therapy against fear,” people are forming flash mobs on balconies to play and sing together, with a different melody for each town. Romans sing “Roma Capoccia” by Antonello Venditti, “while in the Sardinian city of Cagliari, the verses of ‘Wherever You Are’ sound over an accordion accompaniment.” Tricolor flags adorn many buildings. Italy is mourning, but Italy is singing. That’s how we’ll get through this crisis. ■