Janek Fiume, an Estonian living in Terrasini, Sicily, Italy, writes how the entire country has shut down to try and contain the coronavirus pandemic, and what hardships the people are facing in the face of an unprecedented crisis.
My friend Dario on Facebook lets me know every day the new number of the people who have died due to the novel coronavirus, and adds: “Vattene in Estonia, Janek. Subito!!” It means: “Go to Estonia! Now!” Before it’s going to be too late! The situation here is out of control and the first province, Lombardy, is already quarantined. Everyone is running away from there! “What are you waiting for, Janek?”
The escape from Lombardy caused a wave of chaos and helped the coronavirus spread throughout Italy. The Italian prime minister, Giuseppe Conte, announced all the regions of Italy are to be quarantined – also Sicily, where I live. It’s impossible to escape, and at the same time it makes no sense because you would just go from one red zone to another and you’d still have to be careful to not get virus yourself and spread it to others. Who does need this mess? Better stay at home. It’s much safer for all of us. #RestaACasa #StayHome #PüsiKodus
“Restate a casa! Restate a casa!”
Every day, exactly at mid-day, the Terrasini City Government car starts to drive through the streets, asking people to stay at home. It means that everybody must stay at home. No exceptions! Only essential travel – to the grocery store, to the pharmacy – is allowed. Even the recreational sport activities in the parks and the open nature are prohibited. No running! What about pets? You can take your dog for a “walk” only in front of your own house.
Restate a casa! Stay at home! This is no longer a recommendation. This is an order! Whoever breaks the order will be fined. No matter that Italy is still a democratic republic. People are expected to take responsibility for themselves. The carabinieri (the Italian military police force, similar to the Spanish Guardia Civil and the French gendarmerie – editor) are in control. In northern Italy, the military is patrolling the streets, too.
But despite all this ordinary everyday mess and chaos in southern Italy, the Sicilians are incredibly decent and obedient citizens, especially when it comes to their own health and that of their loved ones. People stay home. At the time of writing these lines, there isn’t a single soul on the street, not a single car. Zero.
I’m writing these lines in the afternoon, 3:28 PM CET. Usually, I should be back at work by 4:00 PM. But for the next days, I’m not going because we all must stay home. The entire Italy stays home. Me too! #IoRestoACasa. According to the new order, I will stay home on Sunday, too, and keep my store closed. The first time in my life here!
I could make a one-hour video of the main street where nobody moves around. Manco un’anima criata! Not even a cryptic soul. Everybody’s home. Everybody understands this mess must come to an end. And the sooner it does, the better for all of us.
Our new orders
- Only one member of family and only once a day is allowed to go outside to purchase basic necessities (food, medicine).
- There can be no more than one person in a car.
- On Sunday, all shops are closed (including groceries and pharmacies).
- Nobody is allowed to go out of their municipality.
- …. etc.
Every day brings us new orders. Almost every day, the mayor, through his social media accounts, gives an overview of the situation and specifies the orders people must follow with no choice.
By now, all the restaurants, bars and pubs are closed. Terrasini has over 50 such establishments. All the muster areas are closed. The piazza (the main square) and the park are blocked with roadblocks and red-and-white coloured ribbons; benches have been removed.
As I said, by today, only pharmacies and grocery stores are open. Only a few people at a time are allowed to enter these – depending on the size of the store. Riina, my wife, went to the grocery store yesterday. She had to stay in line for two hours to get in. And people in the line keep the distance of five metres. Respect! And they’re Italians!
Reddito di Cittadinanza and San Vincenzo
As everything is closed, how do the people live? We have two solutions, actually three.
Reddito di Cittadinanza. It is a citizenship income Italy has been paying since last spring. Not everyone gets it, but anyway, it works now. The prerequisite to get it is that you are out of work and stay at home (ironically: this was a precautionary measure in Italy!) But in reality, this money can only be used to pay in the grocery store or to pay your electric bills. In principle, in this case, we’re talking about an advance pay and it means that in a couple of years, the state will send you somewhere to work. And it may happen that this place is not near to your home.
San Vincenzo – help centres for poor people, a so-called food bank (Riina works in one of them; I work in a fishmonger store). There are two help centres at Terrasini.
The parents’ pension. Let’s face it: a lot of Italians in the south live on it. Generations live together, you know. But right now, during the coronavirus crisis, it may be of help – or a total disaster if the older generation gets infected.
And then arrives the moment…
As of 29 March, there are over 600 infected people in Estonia and 1,460 in Sicily. Of course, the population is different, as is the density. But despite the local and national precautions and the almost-total quarantine in Italy, there is a moment when a husband of a sister of your neighbour tests positive. Am I not infected? Am I sure? Am I sure I’ll not infect other people? Will I take a responsibility?
Day by day, the number of tests is increasing and the percentage of the newly infected is slowly decreasing, although the number of the dead itself is still on the rise.
…175, 368, 475, 627, 793, 919…???
These are numbers of daily deaths in Italy during the last few weeks. As of 29 March, we’ve had over 10,000 deaths.
And you, if you don’t want to become a number in this damned list, take care of yourself! Take care of yourself and the others! Take care of your loved ones!
So, I ask all the Estonians to do me a favour: #RestaACasa #StayHome #PüsiKodus
…. and we will meet each other here in Sicily! I’ll be here, waiting for you!
For the latest developments in Estonia, follow our special blog on coronavirus.
Photos by Janek Fiume.