Dispatch from the Road

Rome in the Time of Coronavirus: What's Happening Now

by Erica Firpo
The The Arch of Constantine and the Colosseum on March 8, 2020. Photo by Erica Firpo.

Italy is living an intense, government-mandated lockdown to help prevent the spread of COVID-19. This is the responsible move, and we applaud it. Italy is one of our favorite destinations, and we don't plan to cancel our upcoming summer trips. We are of course concerned for our friends and family over there and for Italians in general, who have always been so welcoming. To get a sense of what is happening on the ground, we checked in with our Rome correspondent, Erica Firpo. This originally appeared on her blog CiaoBella and is reprinted here with permission. We are updating this article as Erica provides updates.

Lockdown, Italian Style

Welcome to the Zona Protetta, a more cautious Italy with the same vibe as those quiet Ferragosto days of closures, but with much more temperance and some new rules. What exactly does this mean? On March 10, 2020 Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte and our government put into effect country-wide DPCM 9 decree fondly known as #Iorestoacasa ("I'm staying home"), designating the entire country a zona protetta, a "protected zone," where all citizens, residents, and guests follow the same (understandably) rigid decorum regulations, closures, and travel rules to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, aka COVID-19. It’s a big deal, it’s serious, and we are following these rules through (at least) April 3, 2020.

"There is no more time — our future is in our hands" - Giuseppe Conte, Prime Minister

What does this mean for me? For my family? For my neighbors?

First and foremost, it means there is nothing to be afraid of and everything to admire as Italy is doing its very best to shut down the virus. Our part is easy: We just have to follow through and be responsible to ourselves and our fellow citizens. This is more than washing out hands and staying one-meter distance apart. We’ve been asked to remain at home and make smart, conscientious choices. Here’s what we can and cannot do in Italy.

  1. We work out, read, watch movies, play board games, and do yoga at home. All public events are banned. Cinemas, theaters, gyms, spas, discos/clubs, pubs, hair and nail salons, and more are closed. Funerals, weddings, and sporting events are cancelled — including Series A football matches (I told you, we are serious).
  2. We homeschool. All schools and universities are closed until April 3.
  3. We work from home, rely on video calls, and don’t bring anyone into the home office. I am already insane after two days of juggling working with homeschooling.
  4. We hang out solo (or with immediate family), but nothing in a group. No more dinners with friends, no gatherings, congregating, conferences, or congresses. St. Peter’s Square is closed.
  5. We stay in Rome. No spontaneous “hey let’s get a pizza in Napoli” travel. We must remain in town, with outside travel only for proven essential work, health or family reasons.
  6. We leave open the possibility of even stricter restrictions. We just don’t know what else we will need to do.

So far, so good. The streets are quiet(er), and the vibe is positive. Personally, I haven’t sensed or seen any panic or exaggeration, though I have heard reports of boredom. Yes, #IoRestoaCasa advises us to stay in but we are allowed to leave our homes. We can visit certain shops like the grocery store, forno bread shop, and even random boutiques like Brandi Melliville.  I have a feeling we’ll see the eventual closure of anything that isn't essential.

MARCH 12 UPDATE

  • All non-essentials are closed. All bars, restaurants and shops are closed. Pharmacies, grocery and food stores, supermarkets and markets remains open. Newspaper stands, gas stations, service areas, laundromats, banks, tabacchi, and essentials like plumbers and hardware stores (I believe) remain open.
  • #iorestoacasa advises staying indoors as much as possible. We can leave our homes for groceries, pharmacies, work, health, and dog walking, but we must stay at least one meter apart and ideally be alone. We are advised to bring an autocertifciate — a document stating who we are and our reason for being outside. Technically, sport activities (again, not in groups) are permitted. Prior to the DCPM update on the evening of March 11, I wrote that we stroll, walk, and jog the neighborhood and even practice outdoor sports. But since Thursday, fewer people are walking or jogging, getting out for grocery store visits and dog walking. We have reduced our personal outdoor activity to necessity store visits.
  • The government strongly emphasizing remaining at home to control the contagion.
  • How do we get things we can’t find at a grocery store? We rely on deliveries. Amazon, UPS, Glovo, UberEats, and other food services are still happening (though I imagine food deliveries will stop), and public transport is running. But honestly, why be on a bus right now if you don’t need to be? For the curious, train service has not stopped, and most airports are open, though several are shutting down.

Consider Italy idling in neutral for a little bit.

What about the restaurants?

UPDATE: All bars, restaurants and shops are now closed.

I love eating, I love restaurants, and I love talking food. In this strange time of restrictions, worry and temperance is taking its toll on Italy’s restaurants. The nationwide decree limits the hours of restaurants and coffee shops to between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m., and in some areas restaurants have completed shuttered their doors. Restaurants in Lombardia, Emilia Romagna, and Veneto have been empty for three weeks. Rome’s restaurants have been dead for nearly two weeks. Even with lunch openings, there are few diners eating out.

A few weeks ago, we joked that this was the best time to book that coveted Michelin table. We’re not joking anymore. Right now, no one dines out, as we all bunker down with #iorestoacasa.

Restaurants have always been networks of communities that spawn more communities, and with no guests or rent to earn, what’s going to happen to salaries? This is the same worry for every other business in every other sector and industry. But today, I feel a little bit more concerned for these spots which have become my gastro-oases. Since March 1, I have tried to visit at least one of my favorite food spots every day and share them on Instagram. And I will continue to do so. Yesterday, we were the only guests at Luciano Cucina, kingdom of Luciano Monosilio, Italy’s King of Carbonara. The restaurant was empty, and it was heartbreaking. I am racking my brain trying to figure some kind of initiative like a Gift Certificate/Pay It Forward program where the Italophiles around the world reading this can buy someone a lunch at your favorite Rome restaurant. (If you need suggestions on amazing chefs and restaurants across Italy, just ask me, and tune into my podcast Ciao Bella.

Solidarietà

We may not be able to hold hands, but we are trying to help each other. Certain cities are offering free home delivery services for groceries and other products. The government has a launched Solidarietà Digitale, "digital solidarity," offering free services and platforms from Amazon, Mondadori, WeSchool, Tim, Microsoft, and more.

In the meantime, these are the resources I'm following:

La Repubblica
Andrea Vogt (Twitter)
Italian Government Official Site
Ministero della Salute (Health Ministry)
GirlinFlorence
For information on Venice, visit Monica Cesarato and Dream of Venice

More to come.