Masked Lockdown

Portraits of the people in Milan during Covid lockdowns

Masked Lockdown

It seemed at first an isolated and distant phenomenon, what was happening in Wuhan, China, thousands of kilometers away from our daily lives. masked-lockdown-coronavirus-milan

On February 21 we were informed that in the Lodi province town of Codogno, 60 kilometers from Milan, the first case of Covid-19 had been detected in Italy. The victim was an active and athletic 38-year-old man, who ended up in intensive care for 20 days.  masked-lockdown-coronavirus-milan

On February 23, red zones were activated in 11 municipalities between Lombardy and Veneto, including Codogno and Vo Euganeo. A ban on people entering or leaving the area was imposed, all events were suspended, and any kind of public gathering was forbidden.

However, there was still no real understanding of the gravity of the situation that was about to start first in Italy and then spread across the European continent. Instead, high-ranking political leaders attended cocktail hours and social gatherings, and the mayor of Milan launched the hashtag #Milanononsiferma (Milan does not stop) that went viral. All of this encouraged people to go about their lives as usual.  

Then on March 7, the entire Lombardy region was pronounced a red zone, and on the 9th the government ordered a lockdown across Italy, becoming the first country in the West to adopt such severe measures.

Our way of life changed radically in a few hours. “Io rest a casa“ (I stay home) became the hashtag of the moment. Our houses became the center of all our activities, and work, education, sports, and social contacts went online. Decrees of the prime minister, regional ordinances, and ministerial provisions were all issued quickly and not always clearly, sometimes even contradicting each other, disorienting the citizenry who stayed in place for fear of being fined. The persistent media campaign had a decisive influence on the behavior and sentiments of the population.

The face mask, initially impossible to find in stores, became the symbol of this new culture of the coronavirus. Worse than the fine for not wearing it was the social shame, even if one was simply not wearing it exactly right. The lonely jogger in the street would pay for his exercise by being yelled at and called a “murderer” or “traitor”.

Prisoners at home, we were updated every afternoon at sunset by the official “war bulletin” issued by the department of civil protection. While the numbers of infected and deceased alarmed and saddened us, further analysis of the many factors contributing to the number of deaths will be necessary to see the full picture of Covid-19 in Italy.

In an empty San Pietro square battered by torrential rain on March 27, Pope Francis, standing alone, said to the world:

“For weeks now it has been evening. Thick darkness has gathered over our squares, our streets and our cities; it has taken over our lives, filling everything with a deafening silence and a distressing void, that stops everything as it passes by; we feel it in the air, we notice in people’s gestures, their glances give them away. We find ourselves afraid and lost. Like the disciples in the Gospel we were caught off guard by an unexpected, turbulent storm. We have realized that we are on the same boat, all of us fragile and disoriented, but at the same time important and needed, all of us called to row together, each of us in need of comforting the other. “

Spring and summer brought a still-masked semi-freedom and a dose of hope and security when we thought the invisible enemy was being defeated. But on October 25, the Italian government issued a new DPCM (Decree of the President of the Council of Ministers), again imposing heavy restrictions on daily economic activities and social life, including a curfew from 10pm until 5am. On November 4 another DPCM imposed a second lockdown, dividing Italy into three different risk areas, and prescribing drastic interventions for the red zone risk areas.

The Lombardy region, where I live, started off in the red zone, then changed to orange, allowing stores to reopen. In the next few hours, the region will move to yellow, allowing restaurants and bars to open until 6:00 p.m. The euphoria for this semi-freedom is expected to be marked by a massive influx of the population to the streets. January however will be a critical month, and we will probably have to return to the tough restrictions again.  masked-lockdown-coronavirus-milan

2020 will end for us on December 31st at 10pm, the hour when our curfew begins and we must go home and not remerge until 5am on January 1st, when for us the new year will begin.

In this way we continue to live, “fragile and disoriented” as Pope Francis said, alternating between lockdowns and periods of semi-freedom, though always masked.  masked-lockdown-coronavirus-milan

The mask has standardized our lives, our feelings, our behavior towards others. We distrust who is next to us. It separates us, and distances us from other human beings. The mask covers our face and our expressions, and yet it also protects us, by making us anonymous.

Pablo Munini December 12th 2020

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