Can you imagine how scared I am right now? I am on lockdown in the north of Italy, in the midst of the coronavirus epidemic. The local hospital of my city, Cremona, is the closest one to the epicenter of the outbreak and it’s been on the frontline of the battle against COVID-19 since the day they found “Patient One”, on February 21st.
In my province alone, we now have over 1,500 positive cases and our hospital has been completely converted to treat this disease. Surgeries have been cancelled, most departments have been transformed into infectious disease units, and our medical staff is working tireless 14 hour shifts to assist all the patients. I know many doctors and nurses who work there, and they are not afraid to confess that they are scared too. Actually, they are “terrorized”, to use the word I hear the most from them. And yet, they have to wake up every day, wear the little protective gear they have left, walk into a hospital with over 500 patients affected by coronavirus, and turn away those with the least chances of survival.
The hospital of Cremona needs all the help it can get! Please, consider giving up your morning coffee today and DONATE TO THE FUNDRAISER they organized to buy more medical equipment and assist more patients!
What I know about fear though is that it’s a necessary feeling. Healthy, even. It’s that emotion that pushes us to react in front of a threat, using the tools we have at our disposal to defend ourselves. Being afraid of coronavirus is a good thing. It’s only when we all understand how grave the consequences of an outbreak are on our health care system that we can start to react properly. In the case of coronavirus, the best tool we have to protect against it and help contain the epidemic is to isolate, stay at home and help others understand they need to do the same.
On March 11th, the Italian Government put my entire country on lockdown and implemented very strict measures to enforce the quarantine rules. All stores are shut down except for pharmacies and supermarkets, and people are only allowed to leave their house for medical emergencies, to buy food (if they can’t shop online) or for selective work related reasons (if they work for factories that were allowed to remain open).
Now, you would think that because we put these measures in place, we are less scared. That’s not true. How could we not be with the numbers of deaths and positive cases rising every day? We do want to believe that we’ll get through this and people even started a positive thinking movement called #tuttoandrábene, (everything is gonna be ok), sharing encouraging and uplifting messages of hope from their balconies and windows. But this doesn’t change the fact that we are scared.
Some of us are more afraid than others. Some are preoccupied for their elderly. Some for their loved ones who are immunodeficient, have pre-existing conditions or are trying to beat cancer. Others are simply afraid of needing urgent care for an emergency and not being able to receive proper treatment because the hospitals are overflowing with COVID-19 patients.
There are still some people though, who are sadly convinced they look cool and brave by stating that they are “not afraid of the virus”. They minimize the risks of this pandemic out of ignorance. And because they are too selfish to give up the comforts and pleasures of their normal life, they infringe the quarantine laws. They go play basketball in the parks or sneak out to go have dinner at their friend’s house.
The self-centered attitude of the naysayers is a threat as big as that of the epidemic. Because not only do they put others in danger by potentially spreading the virus around (as you know, COVID-19 is massively contagious and can be transmitted even by people who carry it in an asymptomatic way), but they also compromise all the efforts patiently made by all of us who are abiding by the rules.
By committing these petty infractions, they also waste the precious time and resources of our police force, who have too much on their plate right now. And in case things don’t go as they planned and they do contract coronavirus themselves, they’ll put even a bigger strain on our health care system and on our doctors and nurses (12% of those infected), who sacrifice their own health every single day to care for our entire country.
Not to mention that if they end up needing intensive care, they’ll occupy a bed and a mechanical ventilator that could have been otherwise dedicated to somebody who was rightfully scared of this virus and did everything they could to prevent contagion.
Another common argument that I hear from those who “are not afraid of the virus” is that the majority of those who die are the elderly or have preexisting conditions.
Despite the fact that many young, healthy adults have been intubated in an ICU for weeks now, since when has the right to live of an elderly or ill person become discretionary? And isn’t it our responsibility to defend the weakest members of our society?
Some could argue that, in the name of individual freedom, people have the right to evaluate danger according to their own thinking and decide whether they want to sacrifice their liberty of movement or not.
Unfortunately, this type of “individual freedom” could only be granted if one was alone in this world. But we are not. And by claiming we are “not afraid of COVID-19” and dismissing danger sweeping the evidence of what’s happening in our hospitals under the rug, we simply violate other people’s freedom.
When I was growing up, my grandpa, a partisan who fought against the Fascist regime during WWII, used to tell me: “Ricordati, la libertà di una persona finisce quando va a ledere quella di un’altra” – “Remember, one’s personal freedom ends when it starts harming somebody else’s”.
His words sound truer than ever today. In the midst of a pandemic, where 1 person infects 2.5 people, the single decisions of each individual affect the entire community exponentially.
Whether we are afraid of coronavirus or not, we all have a responsibility towards the people around us, because they do have the right to protect themselves, try to limit the contagion and live in a safe society where the health of the masses is not at stake.
Afraid or not, we all need to self-isolate and stay at home as much possible. We need to respect the collective efforts of our nation, and we can’t afford to take the risk of jeopardizing everyone else’s sacrifices.
They say in China it was easier to enforce quarantine rules because their government has a greater authority. I can’t comment on that, I have never even been to China.
But I know Italy well, and I know first-hand how much our grandparents sacrificed to make this country a democracy.
Today, we need to own up to that name. Because if we really want to call ourselves a democratic society, one where people have freedom and equality, then we need to stop being selfish and start caring for others.
It’s not a matter of rules. It’s a matter of ethics.
If you liked this article, share it with as many people as you can. Especially to the naysayers. We all have one in our family, or in our circle of friends and hopefully these words will open their eyes and make them see the reality that they need to start facing!
And you want to know my reflections on the First Month of Quarantine in the North of Italy, check out this article!