COVID-19: Voluntary isolation, day 3 Reflections, Italy

Yes, as the heading suggests, I am continuing the level of isolation we have had for two and a half months despite the easing of restrictions. My Italian neighbours and I last weekend shared our anxiety about the easing of the rules for the coronavirus lockdown not the least because of the crowding we saw around the bars when the rules allowed purchase of takeaway food and drinks in the previous couple of weeks. My American friends are also still anxious. We had planned to meet last evening but almost all decided it was too soon yet.

I had decided when the new phase was confirmed last week that I would continue to stay in “partial” isolation. What I meant by that was I would try to ensure I have some control over social occasions. Staying at home was at the core and spending plenty of time in the studio. Walks would be solo occasions in which I avoided the gathering hot spots.

It is worth making some comparisons here about the reach of the COVID-19 disease in Umbria. Perugia the city is both the capital of that Region, which is the rough equivalent of the States in Australia, and of the Province of Perugia within the region. The Province has been hit more heavily in terms of infections with 1007. As of last evening, Umbria had a tally of 74 deaths and a total of 1427 infections. Umbria at the last count in 2018 is home to around 882,000 people. 11 percent of these like me are foreigners.

The latest tally in Australia today is 7,093 confirmed cases of COVID-19, including 101 deaths. Roughly speaking, the Umbrian toll is one death for around 12,000 people and 1 in 618 infections. Compare that with Australia whose population is around 25.5 million. Coronavirus deaths account for around 1 in 250,000 Australians with 1 in 3,600 infections. Umbria is one of the least affected Regions in Italy but outstrips Australia in per capita cases and deaths.

I cite these calculations to illustrate that where I live the flat chances of catching the disease are relatively slight, but are far greater than for Australians generally. Umbria also escaped the exponential increases experienced so tragically in northern Italy. Daily deaths in this country still outstrip Australia’s national aggregate number of COVID-19 deaths since January. Even though Italy’s national lockdown intervened earlier in the trajectory of the pandemic in central Italy, it was a lesson that ignored by both the United States and Britain.

My decision to continue to self-isolate was based upon my own observations of the fragility of social distancing when measures allowing bars and restaurants to sell food and drinks from their entrances were introduced. Those new rules specified that the food and drinks were not to be consumed in the vicinity of the premises. That simply did not anticipate the lovely gregariousness of Italians.

I visited my favourite bar for lunch last Monday, the first day of the new phase in the Italian Government’s attempts to balance the economic damage of the pandemic and the terrible cost in lives and illness.

There was only a handful of customers and social distancing was being respected and if anyone got too close were were reminded of it. I returned in the early evening on Tuesday for a glass of prosecco on my way home after a session in the studio, and buying a couple of locally made re-usable masks.

Again, there were only a few people in the bar, a couple of whom I know fairly well socially. Conversations and banter occurred, but I noticed that my COVID personal space had disappeared in an animated conversation. If I had thought that I could control social interactions with “partial” self-isolation, I had been kidding myself. I enjoy immensely the company of my Italian friends, but I am in a vulnerable group and have that long-standing upper respiratory problem.

Anxiety about my coughing in the presence of a pandemic disease – however low the odds are of catching it where I live – has dogged me since February with fears on the one hand about my susceptibility and on the other hand whether I could be an asymptomatic carrier. Thus, I returned home on Tuesday evening quite shaken by the experience. It strengthened my resolve to continue to stay at home, dividing my time between working in the studio and avoiding the necessary domestic chores. I will, nonetheless, mix socially where I can protect my paranoia of personal space in a time of pestilence!

James McDonald
22 May 2020