OPINION: Living under Italy’s coronavirus lockdown

Isadore Rangel
Florida Today
Walton Sun

At the grocery store, adhesive tape on the ground marks where people should stand so they are at least one meter away from each other. Restaurants and bars are shuttered in the evenings. The gym, closed since late February, now offers online workout classes. Job interviews have been canceled.

Life in Milan, Italy, has been disrupted since the country of 60 million went on lockdown over the past week. The city and much of northern Italy were the first to get locked down over the weekend.

In the midst of the hysteria that the virus has — understandably so — caused, Milan resident Samira Menezes has remained calm. When I called my friend of 15 years to ask how she was dealing with the lockdown, I expected to hear panic in her voice.

Instead, Menezes described her state of mind as "resigned." With the rapid spread of COVID-19 in Italy, she believes there's a strong chance she might contract the virus. A healthy 40-year-old, Menezes is focused on doing her part to contain the virus' transmission, in particular to the elderly, for whom the virus has been especially deadly.

"I don't want to become paranoid," she told me in Portuguese, our native language. "In my mind, I will one way or another contract this virus."

Menezes' attitude has been to focus on what's within her control, follow but don't obsess over news about the virus and, above all, not panic.

She will only leave the house to go grocery shopping and perhaps for a walk to get some sunlight. She's mindful of washing her hands often and she's building up her immune system by eating a healthy diet and exercising from home. She's always worked from home so that hasn't changed. She applied for a job at a school and doesn't know when her interview might get rescheduled as schools remain closed.

The coronavirus outbreak has disrupted Italians' joyful lifestyle. Milan, a vibrant bustling city lined with cafes and bars that typically stay open late into the evening, hasn't necessarily turned into a ghost town but Menezes said she has never seen it so quiet. Subways, once packed, are now mostly empty.

"Tourism practically doesn't exist anymore," she said.

MARCH 12, 2020: Coronavirus Florida: State leaders face hard choices as virus spreads

The Milanese, used to greeting each other with two kisses on the cheeks, have been forced to change how they interact as the government enforces space between people in public places. Authorities have also imposed curfews and travel restrictions. The only travel allowed will be for proven work reasons, for health conditions or other cases of necessity. Menezes' roommate, who was on vacation in the coastal province of Liguria, decided to come back early.

"We think we have so much freedom," Menezes told me. "When something like this happens, freedom becomes relative."

That loss of freedom has been the worst part of the coronavirus outbreak for Menezes. She used to take the subway to visit her significant other but they decided it was best to not see each other for a while to minimize the risk of her getting infected. She also recognizes that despite recommendations to avoid contact with others, that's nearly impossible. Contact can happen at the grocery store or with the barista at the coffee shop.

Menezes is originally from Brazil and she doesn't want to go back home. She feels it would be irresponsible to potentially bring the virus to her family and her hometown of Sao Paulo.

As of Wednesday morning. Brazil had 35 confirmed cases of COVID-19 and the country is monitoring close to 900 suspected cases. Italy had more than 10,000 confirmed cases with deaths surpassing 600, the highest number outside of China. A Brazilian who visited Italy was the first known case in Latin America.

"We have to control this (virus)," Menezes said. "If everybody does their part, we can control it."

Isadora Rangel is FLORIDA TODAY's public affairs and engagement editor and a member of the Editorial Board. Readers may reach her at