Abu Dhabi, UAEMonday 10 August 2020

CORONAVIRUS

Italy hopes pandemic is slowing as infections decline for fourth day

Village of Vo, where the first person in Italy died, has had no new cases in a week

A woman wearing a face mask walks her dog along the border between Italy and The Vatican during the lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic. AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE
A woman wearing a face mask walks her dog along the border between Italy and The Vatican during the lockdown following the coronavirus pandemic. AFP / Filippo MONTEFORTE

The first place in Italy to lose a resident to the global pandemic is cautiously hopeful that it is free of further coronavirus infection as the country's devastating outbreak at last appears to be slowing.

The village of Vo was fortunate to have a medical professional as its mayor when the Italian authorities declared an emergency and put it under quarantine on February, 22.

Pharmacist Giuliano Martini, 62, locked himself in the picturesque village town hall and co-ordinated support for locals after the death of neighbour Adriano Trevisan, 78.

“During the emergency, I received hundreds of phone calls a day, especially at the beginning,” Mr Martini told The National.

“It was like a tsunami, an event you must tackle quickly and effectively, meeting everyone's needs”.

Mr Martini was locked in his town hall office with all of the local government members and councillors.

“We worked with the Civil Protection and the Alpini [a mountain military corps] and we consulted with the authorities of the Veneto region, the health district and the prefecture," he said.

" It was unprecedented and highly complex."

There are tentative hopes that Italy may be reaching a turning point.

Officials reported 5,210 new cases of the coronavirus on Wednesday, compared with 5,249 a day earlier, the fourth consecutive day that the number of new infections declined.

After nearly three weeks of lockdown measures, deaths from the disease in 24 hours were 683, compared with 743 on Tuesday, the civil protection agency said.

On February 24, coronavirus tests began for the whole population of Vo, replicating an approach taken in South Korea.

At the end of the first round on February 29, 3 per cent of the Vo population was found to be infected.

Healthy carriers were put under mandatory confinement at home, while those infected and experiencing severe symptoms were admitted to the hospital in the nearby university city of Padua.

Never in its history had the village faced such a hard challenge.

But the small community remained united. Everyone in the mountainside settlement just north of Venice knows each other, and everyone always tries to help.

“The operational centre of the town hall was open from 8am to 7pm to help the citizens,” Mr Martini said.

“The town hall employees took the initiative to organise their shifts to cover 11 hours each day, every day, so that if someone called there would always be someone to answer.”

Between March 6 and 8, the second testing round took place and only 0.3 per cent of the population was found to be carrying the coronavirus.

The village cordon was lifted. With the spread of the illness slowed, the strict total quarantine could be eased.

The latest data this week shows there are no new infections in Vo.

“Vo has paved the way for the rest of the country,” Mr Martini said. “A sanitary cordon of this kind had never been implemented before.

"At the gates of the town, a sort of Customs office had been set up to control the passage of people and goods; a procedure that was built from scratch.”

Under the lockdown imposed on the whole country on March 8, people can only move for work, health and essential such as grocery shopping.

Regular customers from neighbouring villages, where mass testing did not took place, even began to return to Vo’s pharmacies, supermarkets, and hardware stores.

The risk of the coronavirus being brought in by someone from outside exists but residents are comfortable with how the emergency was handled.

“I think the testing strategy has been successful to contain the virus,” said Tiziana Ambrosi, the owner of Vo’s hardware store, which has been allowed to stay open.

“I also believe that the sanitary cordon was the only way to isolate the infected and protect everyone’s health.

“There’s a lot more awareness in Vo today. Almost everyone wears the mask but here too there are some people, especially the elderly, who still belittle the problem.”

Ms Ambrosi said the epidemic affected everyone’s life.

“I've had more time to be with my family in recent weeks,” she said. “But as for my livelihood, it’s a tragedy. Every day I have problems to solve, deadlines, bills to pay.

"The government is offering options to deal with economic problems related to the emergency but they are no immediate solutions. There are procedures to abide by.”

Maria Mattiazzo, who owns a small farm in Vo, said the ban on leaving home was relatively easy for her family.

“We have 2 hectares of land around the house where we can walk, but I think people in flats must be going crazy,” Ms Mattiazzo said.

Her daily life was changed by the quarantine, even in the small things.

“When I go shopping I disinfect everything I buy, the steering wheel of the car ..." Ms Mattiazzo said.

"You know, I don’t worry so much about myself. I’m 65 years old now and I don’t care. I worry about others, about children.”

A psychologist who spent days in Vo when the epidemic broke out decided to stay and help residents cope with the strains of confinement.

“I very much admire this town because solidarity is experienced as a daily routine here,” she told The National.

“If the neighbour's tractor breaks down, you just quit whatever you’re doing and go help him. It’s something spontaneous.

"And this is not to be taken for granted, especially for people like me who have lived in big cities so long.

"What happened was a shock for some people. For others, it was a real trauma, something much more difficult to process and overcome.

"By contrast, the people involved in managing the emergency no longer even had time to think about themselves.

"They went through a hyper-saturation of relationships with the outside world."

The determination that has made it possible for this small community to overcome the emergency makes them more confident about the future.

The daily decrease of new infections in the rest of Italy gives them hope, but everyone knows that there is a long way to go to defeat coronavirus in the whole country.

“The fact that there is no longer the sanitary cordon to isolate us from the rest of Italy does not reassure me," said Luana Carmignotto, 25, who works in a farmhouse.

"Maybe we were better off under the quarantine. Anyway, I’m very optimistic.

"I think it will take some time, of course, but we Italians will make it. After all, we made it here in Vo. After two weeks we have no new infections any more. I’m confident.”

Updated: March 26, 2020 01:24 PM

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