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Solidarity in a Time of Uncertainty: an Italian Narrative

When Coronavirus first hit China at the beginning of the year, many countries in Europe and the stoic United States welcomed the news with a shrug. Nevertheless, the “it’s just like the flu” theory began to show its weaknesses when the number of deaths and cases in Europe, and specifically in Italy, started to increase day after day.

Eventually, the Italian government (along with others) was forced to admit that the situation had gotten out of hand, following the rapid spread of the virus in the North of the country. 

The only feasible solution was to lock the whole country down. It all started on the 8th March, when the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree known as “Io resto a casa” (I stay at home). By doing this, he extended the lockdown from the North to the whole country, trying to prevent the disease from spreading to the South. 

These draconian measures, which were supposed to last until the 25th March, were announced late in the afternoon, with a press conference that immediately pushed the Italian population into the abyss of the blackest panic. 

It all started on the 8th March, when the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree known as “Io resto a casa” (I stay at home)

Balcony Singing and Races for Solidarity 

Italian singers, actors and influencers immediately started promoting the hashtag #iostoacasa (“I stay home) on their social media accounts, in an attempt to entertain their fans with live stream concerts and other activities and help them spend their time indoors. Chiara Ferragni, fashion blogger and Italian entrepreneur, launched a fundraiser campaign for the creation of new beds in the intensive care unit of the San Raffaele Hospital in Milan, which was pledged by tens of thousands of people from all around the world. “In this really difficult phase for our country we can also do something to support our communities” the campaign page reads.  

After a few days, Italians were punctually gathering on their balconies in the afternoon to sing all together and show the Italian flag with pride. In a week, while lockdown measures were progressively implemented in the rest of Europe, other countries tried to adopt the same strategies to deal with the burden of social distancing. 

covid19 italy news
“Let’s help our ICU”, the fundraiser organised and promoted by Italian entrepreneur Chiara Ferragni on her Instagram page 
 [Image: Go Fund Me] 

Italians were punctually gathering on their balconies in the afternoon to sing all together and show the Italian flag with pride.

Again, it was late in the afternoon, on a Facebook live stream, that Giuseppe Conte announced that the lockdown was going to be prolonged to 3rd April. On that night, many Italians realised what had always been in the air: the virus did not care about their singing and was not going to magically disappear at the stroke of midnight. Suddenly, with thousands of people dying in hospitals which were already at the verge of collapse, this new deadline looked like an optimistic, yet unrealistic, date. 

Patients in hospitals were not the only ones fighting tooth and claw for their life as citizens sipped red wine and chanted the national anthem from their balconies. The Italian economy was suffering as well; on 22nd of March, the PM had announced that all factories which were not producing essential items or services were to closedown until further notice. The global economy was not having a good time, either. 

A New, Invisible Enemy: Fear 

Soon, no one was believing anymore in the “Andrà tutto bene” (Everything will be alright) mantra that many had been repeating since the first day of lockdown. Although Northern regions were and still are the worst-affected by the virus, it looks like it is mainly in the South that the pandemic is having the most severe consequence on in terms of resident’s livelihoods. 

italy coronavirus balconies
A sign reading “Everything will be alright”, hanging from a balcony in Italy. 
 [Image: Team Vogue] 

In Campania, Calabria, Puglia and Sicily, tensions are building across the poorest parts of the population, highlighting socio-economic issues that no chanting from the balconies could ever hide. On Facebook, people desperate for their financial situation started gathering on closed groups, that soon grew up to thousands of members. They started calling for civil disobedience and riots in the streets, and soon they moved from words to action. There have been reports of small shop owners being pressured to give away food for free, while in some areas police were forced to patrol supermarkets to stop thefts and riots. 

A draconian four-week lockdown, which was supposed to protect Italians from a deadly virus, soon became a magnifying glass which finally exposed decades of social and economic differences between people living in the same country.  

The government clumsily tried to solve the situation by promoting a €4.3bn (£3.8bn) solidarity fund and an additional €400m for municipalities, to be converted into food stamps for those in need. However, as South Italy’s mayors immediately pointed out, this was simply not enough, and someone even urged the government to establish a “survival income”. 

“We offer you a heartful hug” 

As a result, in a few days, chanting and live streams on social media weren’t the only things coming from many Italian balconies. In fact, baskets, either empty or full of food, were seen hanging from many places in Milan, Naples and Turin. 

[The lockdown] became a magnifying glass which exposed decades of social and economic differences between people living in the same country. 

The message on each of those baskets is as simple as it is hearth-warming. Each passer-by is invited to donate some food, so that people who are in need may look in there for a tin of soup, a pack of pasta or, as some messages read, a hug. 

italy coronavirus news
A basket hanging from a balcony in Milan. It reads: “If you have nothing to eat, you can take something from here. If there is nothing left, we offer you a heartful hug”.  
[Image: Instagram] 

Although many are now promoting similar initiatives on social networks, baskets are still hanging from balconies, offering a message of hope and affection which speaks louder than any balcony singing can.  

coronavirus news italy
Another basket in Italy, reading: “If you are hungry, here you can find something”  
[Image: Instagram] 

No Man is an Island 

At the beginning of the Coronavirus outbreak, an attitude of “every man for himself” emerged in several countries hit by the disease. Stockpiling soon became a significant issue, and the international food industry struggled to ensure that everyone could have access to everyday essentials. 

When the news was not reporting a new surge in the number of cases and deaths, it was reminding us of how significant the differences between diverse social classes and backgrounds can be. Unlike our society, the virus does not care about our financial and personal situation, as it hits the richest and the poorest indiscriminately. 

However, what the COVID-19 really has managed to do is to highlight that we are all in this together, and we must tackle at it as such. No man is an island, and no one has the means (either financial, political or medical) to beat this enemy on his own. Italy’s narrative of solidarity is just a drop in the ocean of benevolence that is connecting the world. For example, in the UK, there are tens of thousands of volunteers ready to look after those who are self-isolating, with local communities working together to provide everyone with the right help. 

Most importantly, this story stresses how we cannot even dream of overcoming adversity if we do not first learn how to fight together and stand by each other. Beyond any political belief, when governments cannot provide for the most vulnerable with a sense of comfort and safety, we must be ready to come together as powerful allies. 

No man is an island, and no one has the means […] to beat this enemy on his own.

This is a lesson that the world is progressively learning, and that is going to change the shape of our future. For once, we have the power to support scientific and medical progress with what the human race can do at its finest: listen to its heart. 

Header image: Sky News

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