The Hate Pill Against Coronavirus Isolation
Reading Time: 9-13 minutes
Hi Americans, I’m a prophet of the future, and I will predict what will happen in the next few weeks.
Just kidding: I’m an Italian, living in Rome, but I can predict the future of the US for the coronavirus outbreak just by describing what’s been happening here.
I’ve been following closely the United States political and tech news for a long time now, and I think I may know how to match the events, and even tell you what’s going to be different, for the better of the worse. I will do so by describing a timeline of what happened here, and when it did happen there (or will).
1. The “Foreign Virus” Phase: Hate Against the Chinese
In this phase, the virus was a small portion of the international news provided by italian media. I can say that the period ranged from the announce of the China epidemic (January 7th), until January 29th. People were happy, travels were normal, no temperature scans were done in airports or train station. In that period, I travelled a lot between Vienna (where I lived) and Milan (where I work(ed)). I assure you that there were a lot of Chinese people, but no one was fearful of them. China declared that the virus was contained in Wuhan and few other cities, so no one could think that there could be a breakout in Europe. In that period, I started wondering about the timing of the announcement by the WHO (January 7th) and the Consumer Electronic Show in Las Vegas, 7-11 January 2020. Wasn’t it possible for someone, asymptomatic, in Wuhan, to take a train (Wuhan is one of the biggest train hubs in China) and go to Shanghai, Hong Kong or Shenzhen, touch something on the underground that would later be touched by an employee of a company that would later participate to CES?
I think that could have happened. And maybe it did, but perhaps we will never know it. I was very angry (and I was not alone) that every time an epidemic happens, it begins in China. Chinese people showed to have poor hygiene and little to no care of viruses and bacteria. That’s what we all were talking about on social networks.
What we know is that the US was pretty much in the same phase. But on January 30th, the second phase in Italy began.
2. The “National Emergency” Phase: Hate Against the State
On January 30th, the number of cases in China was growing and a day earlier, a Chinese couple was brought to the ER of the Spallanzani Institute for Infectious Diseases in Rome: they were the first two cases of coronavirus in Italy, but it was confirmed not to be a local transmission. So, on January 30th, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte held a conference to announce that Italy was going to be a Country affected by a National Health Crisis, so it was easier for him to announce new reforms and take action if necessary. But up until February 20th, no reform was made, no action was taken. On January 10th, infectious-disease expert from Sacco Hospital of Milan Massimo Galli told journalists that “we have only three cases, the disease won’t spread in Italy, everything is under control”. The third case was a PhD student that had fever, coming back home from Wuhan where he studied.
What Galli and Prime Minister Conte didn’t know, was that as people can be asymptomatic (and they knew that), the virus could spread in ways not known and, worse, not predictable. In fact, virus spread in Germany from a person coming from Shanghai that had a meeting with their co-workers in Munich. From there, it’s possible that the virus spread in Germany and then, in some ways that are not yet known (there are some theories about it, but it’s not relevant to discuss them here), arrived to Patient One in Codogno (a little town near Lodi, in Lombardy), that on February 20th went to the Hospital in Lodi to get checked for pneumonia. And since that day, nothing would have been the same: the local outbreak had begun.
In US, this phase lasted until a couple of weeks ago, and the situation is far worse than what was in Italy: here, we could ‘thank’ Patient One (yes, a bit stretched, but hear me out) because he got the problem to the surface. He showed that the spread was there, and we had the tests ready to scan patients. In the US, the standard testing method from the WHO was declined, because NHS wanted to create a better test that could look for other types of coronaviruses. Result: the first test was made on February 23rd in Sacramento, California, but there could have been a massive spread for weeks, as it happened in Italy.
Luckily, Patient One in Codogno didn’t make a lot of travel those days. During those weeks, I started being tested for fever when arriving in Milan (airport, on the second week of February) and in Rome (airport, on February 24th). I was NEVER tested in Vienna, neither at arrival nor at departure. And I suppose testing was not in place in the US neither. Anyway, it’s possible that the virus only spread near Codogno in the first two weeks.
I was angry, and so were a lot of people, because States and cities didn’t provide the same image of the virus: for some was ‘easy-peasy’, for others ‘the next Ebola’. I thought it was all a trap to sink the Italian economy.
3. The “This Outbreak Can’t Stop Us” Phase: Hate Against The Virus
When the outbreak started making headlines on italian newspapers on February 21st, measures were imposed on citizens in Codogno and nearby: complete lockdown (zona rossa, in Italian), like in Wuhan. No one could enter or exit the towns, and the number of infected people rose to more than a thousand cases in 5 days. 29 people had died as of February 29th, but life was pretty ordinary in other regions of Italy.
I haven’t travelled to Milan since the outbreak, working remotely ever since. I got back to Rome and I started looking for new cases every day, but the numbers in the Lazio region were stable, about 10-15 cases, only from people that had been to (or in contact with people of) Codogno, Milan or China. Milan was put on light lockdown (zona gialla), and people living in the provinces near Lodi (i.e. Pavia, Bologna, etc.) were on partial lockdown (zona arancione). The rest of Italy was on supervision, meaning that every town sent disposition to every citizen to announce the authorities if they’ve been to those regions/provinces/towns. A similar approach is now in place in the US, with the Seattle area on partial lockdown, NYC on lockdown, and few other cities (I don’t follow regional/local news so I wouldn’t know more specifically) as well. But I fear that this phase has lasted a lot of time in the US, much longer than in Italy.
The first case of local transmission in Italy was on February 20th, in US on 23rd (but confirmed on 26th). The imposition of national crisis measures in US must have been made at most 6 days after the one in Italy. Here, the first big measure was the closure of schools throughout the country on March 5th. To act like Italy, President Trump should have imposed the closure of schools on March 11th at most, but he did it on March 16. If you think 5 days are not a big deal, you don’t know the concept of exponential contagion. In 5 days, as I wrote above, we had more than a thousand cases confirmed, from almost zero. It’s not a lot, but you can see what it means if you look at Situation Reports day by day on the WHO website. In 5 days, thousands of cases were confirmed in the last week in Italy alone.
Anyway, in this phase, as most of Italy was just on supervision for new imported cases, politicians and doctors alike were spreading information about the control on the spread. Nicola Zingaretti, governor of the Lazio region, and Giuseppe ‘Beppe’ Sala, mayor of Milan, were supporting a campaign against the stop of activities to prevent further spread of the coronavirus. The campaign was called #milanononsiferma , and a lot of similar hashtags were associated with it, like #italianonsiferma and #romanonsiferma , that is “Milano doesn’t stop, Italy doesn’t stop, Rome doesn’t stop”. Zingaretti and Sala met in Milan for an happy hour in the last week of February to celebrate this campaign. A few days later, Zingaretti tested positive for COVID-19, as well as a member of the Milan administration. It’s possibile that, during that meeting, both Sala and Zingaretti were infected and infected a lot of people.
Lesson learned: when important people (politicians, actors, sport players, etc.) say that the coronavirus is a joke, they get it. The virus follows Murphy’s Law.
A lot of Italians were angry at the virus, saying that being just a bit deadlier than influenza it could not disrupt their lives. I guess I was in the middle: I didn’t hate the virus, I stopped hating the Chinese, I began hating politicians a bit (Zingaretti and Sala on top of the list). I was (and still feel) mixed about this.
4. The “Let’s Stay Home” Phase: Hate Against Travelers
On March 9th, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that all the zones that were on light and partial lockdown were going to be on full lockdown like Codogno. That same night, the news having leaked out a few hours before the announcement, thousands of southern immigrants invaded train stations in northern Italy (mostly in Milan) to take the last night train to go back home to their family, afraid that they would get locked far from home and family for a long time. A lot of them had fever. Italian authorities had no power to stop them yet, because the measure was not yet announced. So a lot of people, 15% of them with fever, travelled across the country taking trains or coaches. The outbreak was only going to get worse. I was very angry with those people, watching the videos on Facebook or on national TV in which they assaulted train stations. And a lot of other people were with the same thoughts. We hated travellers because they were egoistic and didn’t know which consequences they were creating, potentially killing all their grandparents by infecting them.
And that’s exactly what happened. People from the South of Italy are more and more testing positive and a lot of people are dying, and we know the exact cause.
I don’t think US has got past this phase yet, so this is the first suggestion: please, don’t travel, in any case. Don’t go back to the family, don’t take the plane: if they’re more than 60 years old, there’s a super-high chance that you will kill them in 18 days - that’s the course from infection to death in most cases. Even if there’s not a single case in your city or region. The virus is extremely contagious and there’s no way to know how the infections are going to spread. We just know that it’s fast. Don’t underestimate it. And don’t trust politicians with the measures: stay at home and avoid all non-essential travel, even to the local or nearby store. Stay home.
5. The “I’m Going Running” Phase: Hate Against Who Can ___
This is the phase we’re going through now. We’ve been in social distancing and isolation for almost 2 weeks now: every day, every city or town goes on party at 12PM and 6PM to sing the Italian hymn, everyone from their balcony, to support each other. We’re playing more, binge-watching more. We’re invading social networks with our contents that are spread all over the world to show that Italians are not to be beaten by a virus. We’re strong and we feel we’re fighting a war staying at home. We’re going crazy. We don’t know what do anymore. We exercise, discuss virtually, do virtual happy hours, watch YouTube videos about coronavirus jokes, but we stay at home.
But there’s also people outside, bringing kids to the beach, or to the park, enjoying the sun. it’s spring here, the best weather of all year. And every day is a f*****g sunny day. We hope it rains, so we’re happy that we need to stay home.
But there’s people, like me, that are used to go running: to stay healthy, both physically and (mainly) mentally. Most of the Italian population live in condos, so we don’t have garden or a quiet green place to stay in our home. So we need to go out, not to go crazy.
But this is not accepted from other people, that are staying at home and can’t do what they want. Unfortunately, the measures say that one can’t travel, can’t go outside but for important reasons, and that one can go running if s/he maintains social distance of 1-2 meters. Running is just one example, but is the one that I’m most involved in. And so now Italians hate those who go running: “if you go have a run and you get hurt, you need to go to the E.R. and a doctor must visit you instead of a person who could have COVID-19”. Everyone and everything is a risk because we need to minimise our need of cures other than COVID-19.
Yes, we’re becoming crazy, but so will you, Americans. You’re not in this phase yet, but you will be. You will be hating each other to preserve place for the ones that could have COVID-19, because if more people get tested, more people could be confirmed positive, isolated and contained, and so the virus will be contained, and the outbreak will stop fast. But that’s not going to happen I think. WHO says that this virus is here to stay for a long time (more than a few months), and we need to get used to that.
I stopped running. I prefer not having to discuss everyday about dull reasons, but I understand I need to sacrifice my needs for the greater good. At least for now. Don’t underestimate your place in the bigger picture. In pandemic times, every little action or discussion contributes to the greater flow of information. Remember that.
6. The “How f*****g much is this gonna last?” Phase: Hate Against Everyone
The last phase will be the culmination of hate and the growth or roots between your legs, your desk and your bed. After weeks of containment, we will get angry at each other in ways that I can’t yet imagine, but I will keep you posted, so you could take note and do better.