According to my records, today is day 50 of the lockdown.
Reflecting on 50 days of social isolation, it all just seems so surreal.
While northern Italy has been at the epicentre of the global crisis, here in Verona we've been lucky to avoid the worst of the impact. Ours has been a challenge of surviving the lockdown, rather than confronting the more pernicious threat posed by the virus itself.
So these 50 days have a certain dream-like quality to them. In the weeks, months and years to come, I'm sure I’ll look back on these days and question whether they even actually happened!
In Italy, thoughts have now turned to the next phase of dealing with the crisis, what Prime Minister Conte has described as learning to live with the virus, rather than an absolute return to normality.
Normality or not, the mood in Verona has once again shifted. The fear of the harm the virus might wreak has subsided. There is a cautious optimism that the worst is over, and an overwhelming urge to move on.
Three factors have converged to shape this shifting mood.
The first is the marked and consistent downward trend in the covid-related data. Yesterday (26 April), Italy recorded its lowest daily death toll in six weeks (just 260 deaths), although it has snuck up again today to 333. The numbers (contagions, hospital admissions and deaths) are now all moving in a downward direction.
The second factor has been mounting speculation about the terms of the second phase of the lockdown. The current decree expires on 3 May and there has been detailed conjecture about what the next phase of the lockdown might look like.
The third factor is what behavioural scientists might call behavioural fatigue. Put simply, people have now had enough of the strict lockdown. A few weeks ago, the streets were deserted. Those solitary few who ventured out for a jog or cycle where quickly slapped down.
In Verona that level of absolute compliance has now subsided. Encouraged by the data and the revised regulations regarding social distancing, masks and movements outside your house, people are once again venturing out.
With parks and other public spaces still closed and few cars on the roads, families have reclaimed our street, a quiet residential cul-de-sac, as safe place to get some fresh air and play. Elderly couples take their early evening passeggiata along the middle of the road. A girl scoots up and down on her scooter. Her brother shows off his ball skills. Everyone seems to have taken up jogging!
A seismic shift in working patterns and traffic flows has given us a tantalising glimpse of a greener and more sustainable future that may be possible after lockdown.
On Sunday evening we dispatched the kids to bed and gathered around the laptop to watch a rerun of Prime Minister Conte’s address to the nation in which he explained what phase two of the lockdown would look like. Throughout the crisis he’s struck a reassuring, authoritative and forthright tone. He speaks plainly, taking personal responsibility for the actions of his government. Italy is fortunate to have him, particularly when you consider those lurking in the shadows.
From 4 May a gradual easing of the lockdown measures will begin. Sceptics have observed that little will actually change, but manufacturing, construction and wholesale will recommence, outdoor exercise will be permitted beyond the vicinity of your home, and parks and public gardens will reopen.
But it will still be necessary to carry the self-certification document when leaving the house and children’s play areas will remain closed. Kids will still not be allowed to play together in public places and confirmation too that schools would remain closed until September. That means six months without school! I’ve tried not to dwell too much on that sobering prospect!
Travelling outside your region (in our case the region of Veneto) is also still not permitted. For us that means trips to our family in Corfino will remain off limits. We had been planning a 90th birthday party in May, but that will have to wait.
From 18 May there will be a further easing. Shops will be allowed to reopen, as well as museums, exhibitions and libraries. Football teams will be allowed to train together, somehow paving the way for the conclusion of the Serie A season. Quite how this is to be achieved is still a matter of some conjecture, but games will certainly be played behind closed doors.
All going well, bars, restaurants, hairdressers and beauty salons will reopen on 1 June, paving the way for a summer approaching some semblance of normality.
In the meantime, the government continues to recommend remote working. Masks must be worn in public places and anyone exhibiting symptoms (including a temperature above 37.5 degrees) must self-quarantine and inform their doctor, while the elderly and those with pre-existing health conditions are advised not to leave their homes unless absolutely necessary.
As we approach this first stage of liberation, I have to confess to something resembling Stockholm syndrome. I’ve come to terms with my confinement and, rather strangely, I’m somewhat ambivalent about getting out!
I’ve grown fond of my morning coffee on the balcony, my days spent with the kids, my evening workout in the garage, my solitary after-dinner can of beer. I don’t think I’m ready yet for work or bars, the gym or the pub!
Just as well there’s another month to prepare myself!
Available now on Amazon:
A short collect of reflections on family life in locked down Italy
Richard Hough writes about history, football, wine, whisky, culture + travel.