Report from inside the Italian virus lockdown: Craig Alexander

By Swindon Link - 11 March 2020

CommunityHealthOpinion and Features

Swindon born archaeologist Craig Alexander currently lives and works in the Italian town of Brescia. For the past fortnight, he has been subject to the country wide lockdown as the Italian authorities struggle to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Writing exclusively for the Swindon Link, Craig shares his first-hand experience.

10 March 2020

I grew up in Swindon, more specifically in the Ferndale area in the 1960s and 1970s. Since then I have lived in the USA and, now, in Brescia, Italy. Brescia is very like Swindon: about 200,000 people, industrial past.

Covid-19 (aka the “coronavirus”) containment measures have now been in place here in Brescia for a fortnight, What has changed in the last few days since the national government announced new quarantine measures at the weekend and, on Monday, put the whole country on lockdown? In reality, not a lot.

Around Carnevale (UK Shrove Tuesday, but a much bigger party in most of Europe) – 24/25 February – the presence of Covid-19 became apparent here. The initial patients seem to have been a pair of Chinese tourists in Rome.  Soon there were cases of covid-19 that could not be directly traced to the tourists: “community transmission”, as the epidemiologists call it.

Very quickly, the towns with the most cases were “locked down” – people could neither enter nor leave without good reason, on pain of hefty fines.  Further, in surrounding areas, schools were closed; cinemas, theatres and museums were closed; bars were closed outside working hours; church services were switched to video. 

One of the skills I acquired during my studies was map-making, and I have been mapping the spread of covid-19 in the areas around our home using government data (see map).

So, what are my observations as an expat in a country now “locked down” by its government?

1      The government has acted rationally – the only way to contain the virus is to restrict mobility.  China has shown that, vigorously applied, this approach seems to work.

2      Restrictions on travel outside the regione – a sort of agglomeration of counties and unitary authorities – make sense. Some people initially reacted badly to the travel restriction and tried to return south to their “home” regions but that seems to have stopped.

3      Italians, despite their reputation as “emotional”, have been remarkably stoic: people are not “panic-buying” toilet paper or, indeed, anything else: supply chains will function, even if subject to some degree of degradation.

4      To my surprise, Italians have responded to covid-19 with the sort of humour that I associate with Brits: there are wonderfully “dark” humour pieces circulating amongst my friends on WhatsApp!

Healthy people below the age of 70 or so seem to be at little risk of death. Covid-19 will pass – we just need to behave appropriately and reasonably!

The real impacts on daily life, right now, are that one goes out as little as possible, that one restricts casual social contact, and that one is sure to have 7-10 days of basic household supplies to hand.

Is this the end of the world?  Almost surely not! Is this a situation in which one needs to take care and “be prepared”? Almost surely yes!  Take reasonable precautions – but please do not overdo it! My “emotional” Italian neighbours are, by and large, treating this outbreak sensibly. I would commend their example to all!

About the author:

Craig Alexander was born in Swindon and attended Ferndale, Moredon and Hreod Burna schools before studying economics at Cambridge. He moved to the USA to undertake doctoral studies in economics at MIT. This was followed by management consultancy work with McKinsey and Accenture. About 15 years ago, Craig’s career changed direction and he returned to Cambridge for a MPhil and PhD in archaeology.  He now lives in Brescia, Italy. He has current archaeological projects in Valle Camonica, Puglia and Cambridge.

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