I absolutely know that friends and acquaintances mean well, but if one more person asks if I am particularly worried, living in Italy, about coronavirus I will scream. Friends have shared, on social media, pictures of empty supermarket shelves in the UK and lamented about the unavailability of toilet paper. In one case I commented that there was no stockpiling here in Puglia, and everyone expressed surprise that here, when we were particularly at risk, everyone was being so laid back.
It is clear where the impression comes from. UK (and indeed American) media have absolutely given the impression that all of Italy is almost a plague pit, and to be avoided absolutely. I was planning to visit my London based son (who works in a large venue) for my birthday next week but am now not going as I would not be able to see him- his employers have decreed that anyone having contact with a recent arrival from Italy has to self quarantine for 14 days. Beyond crazy.
The reality is far different from the media hype. True, Italy has had the most cases of anywhere in Europe – 5294 if you exclude the 500 odd cases who have already recovered. Of these, 94% have been in 3 Northern regions – all of which are now on lockdown. On average these areas are around 800 km from Nardò, where I live – greater than the distance from London to Edinburgh (637) and with mountain ranges in between.
In Puglia there are 39 cases. This, in a region which is over ten times the size of greater London which has 29. This is the equivalent of 1.85 % in Greater London (by area, not population) and .0002% Puglia. Most of the cases are in the Foggia area where an old man died and his (large) funeral was allowed to go ahead despite the fact that he had been tested for coronavirus – the positive result came in after the event. Foggia is over 300 km from where I live, in Nardò – the equivalent of London to Manchester.
In the Salento, the region where I am, the same size as Greater London, there are 5 cases. Unlike Greater London, there is almost no public transport, which has to be a prime infection risk, and people are less likely to move around outside their immediate home town so, in any case, chances of infection are lower. Extreme precautions have been taken – including closing schools for two weeks, and far more tests have been carried out than in London. All the Puglia cases are directly related to individuals returning from the afore mentioned Northern Italian areas, before the cordon was in place, and before travelers were quarantined. Two of the five Salento cases are husband and wife and, as a result of their positive test, over 100 people were quarantined immediately and 7 other people tested.
In Italy as a whole there have been 386 tests per million people. In the UK 199, so it is likely that more undiagnosed cases have been free to wander around causing an infection risk in the UK (80% of confirmed cases so far have only mild symptoms).
Everyone is likely to react to the threat of coronavirus differently. Personally I can’t imagine hoarding loo roll, wherever I lived (wine and chocolate if anything!) and, unless I had flu symptoms, am unlikely to change my life in any way, other than having developed a Lady Macbeth like handwashing habit. I understand that people are scared, but, personally, I feel like one is more likely to be hit by a bus than contract coronavirus, at the moment, and the death rate doesn’t seem terrifyingly high to me. I don’t really want to be fear driven in any case.
If people choose to stay in their house, not use public transport and batten down the hatches that is entirely up to them, and I wouldn’t dream of judging them for doing so. But for other people not to travel to Italy, (with the exception of the aforementioned areas) a country which relies heavily on tourism, and probably put thousands of small enterprises out of business as a result, because of massive press misrepresentation is not remotely alright.
Airports are deserted, basic tests on passengers are stringent and the risk, once here, is considerably lower than in most of the UK or elsewhere for reasons already mentioned. There are also likely to be flight and holiday bargains to be had, sadly.
So, rant over, but if the toilet paper shortage (and the cold and grey weather) is beginning to take its toll, you know where to come!