I come from the southern region of Apulia, the heel of Italy’s boot, but am now living in Milan. Since 9th March, I have been self-isolating at home. It feels strange. Two months ago I’d never even heard of the coronavirus. Then, one day, at the beginning of February, when I was still working for Dolce & Gabbana, I overheard a colleague talking on the phone about a sales rep just back from China who’d become infected with Covid-19.
It’s tough being so far away from my home. I miss my family and friends, but a sense of morality obliges me to stay here in Milan because I am afraid of contracting the virus and then spreading it around Apulia if I go back.
Northern Italy has so far been the epicentre of Italy’s outbreak, the second worst-affected place in the world after the United States. The regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and Veneto represent 85% of all confirmed cases to date and 92% of the recorded deaths. But an increasing number of cases were also seen in the south of Italy, which is poorer, less developed and less equipped to withstand the economic impact of the coronavirus.
Over the past decade and a half, about two million people have left the underdeveloped south in search of work. Hundreds of thousands have settled in the north. Last month, the governor of Apulia made an impassioned plea for them not to return home to sit out the contagion with their families. ‘I speak to you as if you were my children, my brothers, my nephews and nieces: stop and go back,’ said Michele Emiliano. ‘Do not bring the epidemic to Apulia.’
In Apulia there are no adequate hospitals or facilities, and not enough ventilators or protective equipment, to cope with the virus. As the north of Italy begins to relax the lockdown after almost six weeks of quarantine, the spread of the virus is putting more pressure on the south where the economy is far weaker and where unemployment rates are much higher than in the north. Last year in Apulia, for instance, the unemployment rate was almost 20%, which is much higher than the national average.
My mother, who lives in a small town near Brindisi, tells me that the municipality is a red zone, with severe restrictions on movement. Only food shops, pharmacies, banks, tobacconists and newsagents remain open. People are allowed to leave the house only if they have an autodichiarazione, an official form on which you write your name, address, date and place of birth, passport or driving licence number, mobile phone, your reason for leaving the house, and the specific date and time. If you leave the house without a ‘valid reason’, you can be fined up to 3,000 euros or face a maximum penalty of three months in jail. Controls have been stepped up and there are police everywhere. It feels like a situation of maximum danger and emergency.
Halfway through Lent, for which the Italian word is quaresima, from the Latin for ‘forty’ that also gives us ‘quarantine’ in English, the pope walked through the semi-deserted streets of Rome. His bodyguards kept two metres behind him, and two metres away from each other.
The Italian lifestyle has changed. Shaking hands is forbidden. We are not allowed to go to the park. Everywhere you go you feel the surrounding gloom. I doubt things will return to normal until July at the earliest. And when they do, when we have finally beaten or beaten off the coronavirus, we will be living in the rubble of our national economy.
Riccardo Cappelli is a fashion designer