A young woman in Italy with deep ties to the Sunshine Coast has sent us a snapshot of her country’s terrible and ongoing struggle with the coronavirus, along with some loving advice to her old friends more than 9,000 kilometres away.
Fiorenza Leonardo was a Rotary exchange student who started attending Chatelech Secondary in 2017 and graduated the following June. During her stay on the Coast, she lived with two families in Sechelt and one in Halfmoon Bay.
Now 19 and back home in Naples, Fiorenza described in a letter shared by the Rotary Club the day-to-day reality of living in one of the hardest hit countries in the world, where 60 million people are effectively under house arrest.
“In my province,” she wrote, “it has become illegal to exit your house if not for a valid reason (work, health issues, walking dogs, grocery shopping). When you do leave your apartment, you need to carry with you two copies of a form that must be printed and filled out at home saying the reason you have exited your house. If you do not present this form to the authorities when asked, you will get a fine and a criminal record as well.
“Everybody here is wearing masks and gloves. You must get in a queue to enter any kind of shops (only grocery stores and others such as hardware stores are open) and only a few people are allowed in at a time. We also all must stand at least one metre away from each other.”
Fiorenza was writing about a week ago, in her ninth day of lockdown. At the time, there were about 1,000 deaths in the country attributed to COVID-19. A week later, that number has grown to about 3,000. Religious ceremonies and funerals have been banned and morgues are reportedly piled up with bodies. In a town in Sicily, the New York Times reported, 48 mourners defied the ban by taking part in a funeral procession, risking three months in jail.
The epicentre is in northern Italy and Fiorenza happened to be visiting Milan when “everything started” around Feb. 20. “As things got worse and more and more people were starting to get infected, my friend and sister and I left the city and went back home to Naples. Unfortunately, we weren’t the only ones. Everybody wanted to leave the north because the number of infections was growing like crazy, but those who had caught the virus and had come to the south started the spread here as well.”
I emailed Fiorenza to find out if things had changed in the week since she wrote. She got back to me Wednesday. “Currently things are not improving much,” she said, “and we are actually expecting to have the highest number of infections in the next few days… Right now the lockdown is set to end on April 15, but we all highly doubt it will actually be possible for us to start living our normal lives again within such a short amount of time, given how slow this thing is passing.”
In her letter, Fiorenza tells her friends on the Coast, “The best thing you can do is NOT to panic, and avoid direct contact with anyone because you can never know who they have been around. The only thing to do is to try and slow the spread down as much as possible before it gets as bad as it is here.
“I know Canada will handle this better and I hope things won’t get as bad, but please, everybody, be careful.”
She signs off, “I love and miss you all!” and sends virtual hugs – from a metre away.