Sunday 8th March 2020, in Northern Italy, I awoke to the headline;
Coronavirus: Northern Italy quarantines 16 million people
Outside China, Italy has the largest number of confirmed cases of the novel Coronavirus, nCoV, and Covid-19 disease and it is spreading rapidly. Overnight, the President of the Council of Ministers issued a new Decree. The extraordinary decision had been taken to lock down one quarter of Italy’s population to contain the spread. The measures will remain in place until 3rd April 2020.
By the evening of March 8th, the decision had been taken to close public spaces such as museums – along with all the ski resorts in the Val d’Aosta.
On Tuesday morning, 10th March 2020, the headline had changed;
Coronavirus: Italy extends emergency measures nationwide
We had planned to leave, but our time had run out.
Where Are We?
Mark and I are spending the winter ski season in the Northern Italian province of Val d’Aosta. The Aosta valley is separated by the Piedmont region from the hotspots in Lombardia and Veneto. Up a mountain at 1800m, we believe that we are reasonably safe from infection, particularly now that our little village is like a ghost town. To date, there are only eight confirmed cases in Aosta; the same number of confirmed cases as the UK county of Hampshire at the time of writing. Aosta is an area of 1200 sq miles, although the upward trend in the number of cases suggests that the situation is likely to change.
As the news of the initial lock down broke, Mark was in the UK, having taken our new truck home from Holland. With such a dynamic situation, we needed to formulate a strategy. Mark cancelled his return journey by train and flew to Italy a few days earlier than planned. Our intention was to head off in Caravan Kismet and start our proposed trip to Poland and the Baltics a little early. Now, we will be going nowhere fast!
Are We In Danger?
We do not feel in mortal peril. We are not especially worried about becoming infected with nCoV; in our current, isolated situation, the likelihood seems slim. With the rapid spread of the virus, our moving to another country would not automatically make us safe from infection, so we will continue with sensible measures such as hand hygiene and avoiding crowds.
While any loss of life is a tragedy, it is always worth looking behind the sensation and the statistics. Italy has a very aged population. The New York Times reports that the average age of those who have died from Covid-19 in Italy is 81, and many already had serious, underlying medical conditions. If you or a loved one fall into that category, click here for advice on how to reduce your chances of infection and stay safe during the outbreak.
I reiterate the point that the containment measures are to prevent the rapid spread of the virus; they not in place because it is deadly. Younger people in good health who become infected often experience only mild symptoms and can reasonably expect to make a full recovery from Covid-19. According to the World Heath Organisation, “Most people who become infected experience mild illness and recover, but it can be more severe for others.”
However, the rapid spread has the potential to overwhelm the health care services with vulnerable patients who develop complications. Evidence suggests one in five (20%) may need hospital treatment, with one in twenty needing critical care. Thus, if you have 100 cases of nCoV, 5 people need a place in intensive care. With 100,000 cases, that rises to 5,000. According to the BBC, the UK’s NHS has 4,000 critical care beds, four fifths of which are occupied. People do become ill with things other than Covid-19. Add in the fact that front line workers are at risk of infection themselves and you can see how this drama can quickly become a crisis.
Rather than a risk of imminent death, our main concern was that the borders would close or that Aosta might become locked down, so that we would be unable to leave. We had already discussed our itchy feet and planned to move on shortly, regardless of the virus. With things changing almost by the hour, we didn’t want to get caught out. However, since Mark arrived back only on Monday, we were unable to pack up and get the caravan ready before the measures were put into place on Tuesday.
“I’m Not Moving on Friday 13th!”
Living the Dream in Lambertshire seems always to be like a soap opera. Mark is recovering from his experiences of getting The Beast, our new overland truck, home from Belgium, but that story is for another day. When you read it, you will not be surprised that he insisted that we would not break camp on Friday 13th!
My tooth broke on Monday, so I now need to visit a dentist. They say trouble comes in threes and our testing triumvrate of trauma is completed by the fire.
We rent out our apartment in the UK to fund our travels. An electrical fault in the fuse boxes in the bin store beneath the building arced and caused a fire. Thankfully, the fire was contained in the bin store, our tenants were away at the time and no-one was hurt, but our tenants had to be moved out because the flat was damaged by soot and smoke. It is always a joy to find that you not only lose rental income but are liable to pay for the tenants’ alternative accommodation. Unsurprisingly, our tenants are reluctant to move back in and start paying for their accommodation again and have demanded that we replace all the carpets.
We are insured, but of course that is no guarantee that we will get our money back. The whole building could have gone up, so we’re counting our blessings. We are even thankful for the asbestos in the wall of the bin store. It halted the spread of the fire, although now we know it’s there, we have to pay for it to be removed by a specialist!
Before you give us a hard time for being typical, irresponsible, slum landlords, it was not the electrical system in our apartment that caused the fire, although we still have to pick up the pieces. When we moved in, we spent a four figure sum to make our electrical system safe. It was so bad that it took a team of two electricians two days to put right. In order to be responsible and on the basis that you can never had a big enough piece of paper to cover your arse, we also had an electrical safety test carried out, even though it was not a legal requirement for letting. (Quite rightly, it is now.)
The workmen who converted the flats did such a shoddy job that what they left behind nearly killed our electrician. There was no earth and when he cut the wire to an unused spur that should have been disabled, he discovered that it was alive and kicking with 240 volts running through it. When it exploded, I can honestly say that I have never seen anyone go that shade of white before. Although, had I looked in the mirror, I would have witnessed a matching set, since I was in the room at the time.
So, although we had intended to move before Friday 13th, this ill fated day is still too late. We’re not going anywhere, because the borders are now closed.
What Will Happen To Italy?
My heart bleeds for our friends who run the businesses here, who will lose at least a month’s peak revenue, along with the Easter bonanza. We did feel sad and guilty about abandoning them, but with everything closed, our contribution to the local economy would not be vast, although they will get it now anyway!
All I can say is that, once the Coronavirus situation eases, please visit Northern Italy. It is beautiful, the people are lovely – and they really will need your tourist dollars.
Please note that, while this information has been researched carefully and is given in good faith, it is very much subject to my disclaimer. The situation is changing rapidly, so do sign up for alerts and check reliable sources regularly for the current information.