During good times, my Italian friend, Edi Francesconi, shared picture-perfect postcards of her homeland, treated me with home-made pasta and we had wonderful conversations about her family-oriented culture.
Life in her hometown in Bologna is scary today. Her cousin, Saverio Sarti has to walk the fields away from his apartment to get some fresh air. If he is caught by the police, the fine is a steep 230 Euros. He will also be charged for attempted homicide.
Her friend, Rita Grazoli, a retired administrator in her early sixties in Crevalcore, a province in Bologna is getting depressed. When times were normal, Grazioli would take care of her granddaughters, pick them up from school, cook for them, take them to the park and help them with their homework.
She cannot do that anymore as the girls and their parents live in a different hometown and travel is forbidden.
Grandparents in Italy tend to live very long lives and they have an active social life. On weekends, children bring their family’s laundry to their parents, but this has come to a stop because parents could get exposed to COVID-19 through their clothes.
Lombardia, with cities such as Milano and Bergamo, Emilia, with Parma and Bologna, and Veneto, with Venice, is the most affected cities. Emilia has over 1 million people over 70, out of a total population of 4.5 million. Lombardia has 10 million residents, and 2.3 million of them are over 70.
The first wave of infections
People over 80 started dying when the first wave of infections began. Most had pre-existing conditions, like emphysema, lung cancer and cardiac issues.
Now, Italy is seeing people of all ages getting critically ill and requiring life support equipment. Young children are carriers of the disease but do not seem to get sick.
People who are dying now are as young as 20, with no pre-existing conditions.
In Edi’s hometown, a policeman got infected at work and passed it on to his entire family. His wife died.
Lessons for Kerala
A middle-aged man who did not respect the quarantine met with friends for coffee and he infected his wife who was fighting cancer. He had a heart attack when he realized what he had done. The wife is on life support. These are lessons for Keralites to understand that this is a deadly infection and there is no cure.
The Italian healthcare system is overwhelmed. Respirators are given only to patients who show better chances of survival, leaving patients 80 and older to die, when respirators are insufficient.
Patients who seem to have recovered get infected again or become positive to the virus again, risk death. Nearly 3% of the patients who have recovered have permanently damaged lungs.
So, why did this happen? Italians always had problems following rules. They did not believe in directives from their government, especially after decades of corruption and misinformation.
Many have just started obeying orders and social isolation is difficult in a culture where it is the norm to go visit people, have coffee, chit chat, walk together, shop together and do things with family and friends.
Let us, Keralites, learn a lesson from this ordeal, right now. Stay away from each other for a while because the sacrifices you make now can help you lead a healthy life.
Let’s not visit places of worship. Let’s stop visits to tea shops and restaurants. Let’s impose stiff fines on people who violate the rules and let’s listen to our government.
(Sarat Pratapchandran is a US-based writer whose career spans content management, philanthropy and corporate social responsibility. He has a Masters in mass communication from the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism at Arizona State University and Kerala University)