It’s a surreal time to be alive right now. This is real, it is happening, and yet we are ok.
With coronavirus in Italy being the top topic all around Florence as of late I find myself bracing for more advice/updates/rules almost guaranteed to arrive with the arrival of a new day. I wash my hands for 20 seconds and try not to touch my face, I try to stay a safe distance from others. It’s as stressful as you can imagine and not the best way to kick off a new decade that has already seen its fair share of disasters in a few short months. It is important to note that I am not a doctor, not infectious disease specialist; just a blogger who calls the city of Florence home.
The World Health Organisation has confirmed the global number of confirmed cases of COVID-19 has now surpassed 100,000. Italy is obviously one of the most affected countries – but is also one of the countries that has done the most measures in regards to prevention. They have tested thousands of people and have taken preventative hard decisions in regards to containment, like that of isolating almost a quarter of the population, mostly concentrated in the North.
Truth be told, I miss the voices of the students and travelers that make this city a must-see, must-study destination. The laugher that I hear often trailed down my street, the clink of wine glasses, the queue in front of Palazzo Pitti. The number of people affected by this economically is devastating within my own friend group, much more so within the entire region/country as a whole. No of us thought it would come to this, uncertainty by the day by the hour, but we still must remain positive because what is the alternative?
It feels like right is left and up is down with every news site trying to update the public as quickly as possible, often with sad, real-life repercussions – as represented by the video of people from the North frantically tried to leave Lombardy by train as the quarantine decree was leaked to the press the night before it was meant to. The old stereotypes of north vs. south and refugees fleeing their own countries to save themselves comes to mind as a sad irony. Humans being well, human. I don’t believe in going to social media to name and shame people while forgetting our own misgivings during these stressful moments but we can be reasonable and say “look things have changed, now we must do this” and hope that it helps.
Everyone is glued to the news or to that coming from their friends, the local comune or social media. I can imagine this being extremely tough for anyone whose dream it is to be in Florence, Italy right now as a tourist and even more so for us that call this city home, whose livelihoods are greatly affected by this.
It is a very eerie feeling at the moment, not of panic (thankfully) but resigned sadness perhaps. Italy has an enormous elderly population so what is most important, of course, is making sure our hospitals, health care system is able to function – as reports come out from Lombardy of people being treated in hospital corridors. Many of us, especially in the past day or two, have heard the messages from doctors in emergency wards up north talking about the lack of respirators for those who need them which has shaken people to the core, so it’s now or never in terms of taking action.
We know that most young people will have mild symptoms and will be ok but the concern is that it can be passed along to Italy’s large elderly population and those with immunosuppression. With increased cases and need, non-essential surgeries are being rescheduled or cancelled and causing a backlog in hospitals you can only imagine how disastrous the situation can get if the numbers continue to rise.
All of this serves as a stark and grim reminder that we too must adjust our ways of living, at least for right now and hope that things go back to normal soon.
What you need to know right now: March 12th, 2020
As of March 10th 2020 the entire country has now been named a “zona protetta” or protected zone. The message undoubtably to the public is STAY AT HOME until April 3rd and is quite literally the name of the decree. As of March 12th further restrictions were put into place to close ALL stores/shops that were not food-related.
Yes, these are drastic measures the likes we have never seen, and there are quite a number of guidelines that citizens are meant to respect as of now. As was already the case in Lombardy and in the 14 northern provinces affected, the movement of people is now prohibited except for proven reasons of health, necessity (buying groceries, walking the dog) or work. Yes public transportation is still working (including buses, trains and airports) and you will need to bring a certificate self-certifying that you need to travel (which you can look at and download here -updated March 23, 2020).
“I am fully aware of the seriousness and responsibility,” explained Giuseppe Conte, the Italian PM at 9:30pm on March 9th. “We can’t afford to let our guard down. It’s time for responsibility and we all have it. You citizens all with me. The right decision today is to stay at home. Our future is in our hands,” he adds.
“This includes a ban on gatherings outdoors and in outdoor venues – Conte points out -. We understand the need for sociality, we have seen all the images of the nightlife, but we can no longer afford these episodes that are also proving to be contagious.” (source).
According to the official numbers, 50,000+ people have tested positive for CO-VID19 and over 6,000 people have passed away with around 7,000 fully recovered (updated March 24th, 2020). You can find a map updated in real-time here.
The official decree (updated March 12th, 2020) outlining guidelines for all of Italy can be read here. This is probably the most useful list I’ve seen yet by Corriere. People found to violate the below restrictions can face a 206 euro fine or three months in prison. The Local Italy also has a very good writeup of common questions and answers.
- All museums are closed until April 3rd as well as libraries and state archives. Weddings and funerals and cancelled as well as theaters, the cinema and churches (there are some assurances that people who want to worship as long as they stay a meter apart from one another).
- Schools are closed until April 3rd and lessons will be taught remotely.
- Also cancelled/banned are congresses, conventions and medical meetings, demonstrations, events, pubs (without kitchens), discos and dance schools, game rooms etc.
- Avoid all unnecessary travel (see above for the official certificate)): people are only meant to leave for work (if they can’t smart work), groceries, necessities (take the dog out).
- Grocery shopping is permitted, only one member per family can go at a time.
- All shops/stores are closed except for grocery stores/pharmacies,/tabacchi.
- The following are suspended: educational trips, exchange or twinning initiatives, guided tours and educational outings planned by educational institutions of all levels and levels
- Except in exceptional cases, visitors of patients must stay out of the emergency room.
- Restrictions on access to hospices, rehabilitation facilities (in fact, these measures have already been taken in recent days but may now be exacerbated).
- Smart working applicable by employers even in the absence of individual agreements; employers are asked to encourage the use of ordinary holidays and leave.
- Suspended Masses, funerals, religious and civil services; prayer IS allowed in places of worship with a distance of one meter and the gathering of people is forbidden.
- Those who are quarantined or whom have tested positive for the virus cannot leave their home.
- It will be possible to order food at home, but those who make the delivery must maintain the distance of one meter and ensure the hygiene and health regulations for packaging and transport. Might be worth checking what is open anyway as many restaurants closed this week.
- Banks and public offices are open but you must keep a distance of one meter from the employees.
- You can take the train and get on a plane if you have a verified/ justified reason for travel. They will check.
- It is forbidden to visit friends and family unless there are serious reasons; in any case, you must keep a safe distance and use gloves and masks. Dinners and parties are also forbidden at home and any kind of gathering both indoors and outdoors.
Regarding going outside for a walk: walking and running in one’s own comune is not expressly forbidden by the decree if you go alone, but as these days go by and the controls increased, it has became clear that many people have gone out and stayed out for a long time using this excuse “for health”. Instead, the provisions are now (at least to this girl) more clear: to stop Coronavirus infection you have to stay at home, avoid any kind of contact between people. Obviously you can take your dog out to do their business but what I have understood is no hour long walks around the city. It’s a sort of “buonsenso” or common sense attitude right now. This is meant to last until March 25th.
The head of the Civil Protection Angelo Borrelli said it clearly: “You must go out only when strictly necessary and you must bring the self-certification form. Added to this are the recommendations for those who want to do outdoor sports: “In the event of an accident it is much more difficult to be treated because you must avoid in every way to go to hospitals and private clinics.
There is talk from the government to suspend mortgage and tax payments but I’m not entirely clear how that will work.
Note: It’s important to remember just how resilient a country Italy is. This is a place that has survived several world wars, devastating floods, plagues, economic disasters and yet, it still has emerged as a destination so very beloved by many around the world.
Contrary to popular belief: we are not under martial law – these “stay at home” rules are put into place so that we do not infect our loved one, family members and friends and put countless people at risk. Yes we can go to the grocery store, pharmacy or to take the dog out quickly. This is not going to last forever and we all have to band together as a community and abide by the rules for the during and after.
You might be wondering why the mood shifted so quickly – this happened when the hospitals up north in Lombardy (some of the best in Italy and Europe btw) became overwhelmed with treating coronavirus patients in need of respirators with doctors and nurses and the Red Cross pleading with people to stay home. Yes the majority are older, but there are people our age in intensive care too. Let’s not be blind. This is not a conspiracy theory, political ploy – it’s a health crisis we’ve never seen before and I hope we never see again.
We have an excellent health care system here in Italy with the belief that health care is a human right for all without bankrupting oneself or that of their family. For that I will forever be grateful, especially during times like this. It has never been more important to stay rational right now, come together as a community, listen to the guidelines put out by the government and remember that we are human beings made of the same blood, nervous systems and bullshit as everyone else.
I just saw this as well from the official government website. Companies and associations in Italy now will be offering free services as part of a digital solidarity initiative enacted by the Minister for Technological Innovation and Digitization . This includes free data from mobile phone providers, help with setting up smart working, free online courses for teachers, free tutors, free digital magazine by Conde Nast, children’s books and a heck of a lot more.
A few examples are as follows.
- Mobile services such as WIND/TRE are offering 100 Giga free for 7 days from the second half of March to for all rechargeable mobile voice customers.
- Amazon is offering free training webinars, lasting an hour and a half, on STEM subjects and intended for teachers of primary and secondary schools. The courses will cover opportunities of Creative Learning and Coding as applied to teaching. Free tools will be available to create an innovative “kit” for classroom projects. To participate, you can send an email to [email protected] with the subject “Webinar STEM”, indicating your personal details and the institution to which you belong. The teacher will receive an email with instructions and access credentials.
- Fastweb: From the second half of March, 1 million Giga will be available for their entire community of mobile customers.
How can you support? Options at a distance and locally.
This is the time when Italy needs you to support the made-in-Italy brand more than ever.
We have a number of businesses that are greatly affected by the loss of tourism and are at a risk to close. Many self-employed people are especially vulnerable as they don’t have the protections that someone with regular employment is privy to and not everyone can work from home as is suggested by many on social media. Many of us with a partita iva are nervous about looming tax bills and contracts abruptly ended, hotels and restaurants are laying off people in droves, suspending contracts. While the local and national government talks about measures (suspension of tax bills, the ability to pay utilities late) to help those in need, I too am racking my brain on how to help.
One immediate thought of course is the logical. If you need to cancel a trip (understandable right now) because it is this March, consider postponing and accepting credit for a future vacation this Fall, next Spring, in lieu of a full refund that could bankrupt these companies you’ll want to use in the future.
The Croce Rossa (Italian Red Cross) is looking for temporary emergency CoVID-19 volunteers in Florence who can help deliver groceries and medicine to the elderly/those who have medical problems and can’t leave their house. Anyone can apply and there is a 5 hour streaming video for guidelines/info that must be completed before starting.
Tour guides are especially impacted right now and could use your support – considering asking about purchasing a trip voucher for an upcoming trip. Support people like Alexandra Lawrence (who has personally taught me so much) by getting a travel voucher – asking to donate (her PayPal address is [email protected]), the wonderful Molly Mcilwrath, Elaine Ruffolo, sign up for a fall tour with Helen Bayley here or listen to and support Fadi Bassil and boutique tour company ArtViva.
Also, If you have to lay low and stay home, why not do so with excellent wine, olive oil, artisan-made products, or even order a nice dinner for two – via takeaway?
It is now possible in the center to order your groceries online and delivered to your door (Esselunga!) or order food through deliveroo but also ask local restaurants/farms/agriturismi if they offer similar options – like an organic to-go basket from somewhere like Il Carduccio on Sdrucciolo de’ Pitti.
Todo Modo Bookshop is offering a book and wine delivery service (really) via
email [email protected] or by phone +39 0552399110 (messaggio in segreteria). To order a book: They will need the title, author, publisher (best to send a screenshot) and upon delivery you can pay via cash, credit card or bancomat. Another option is to help support them by owning a “piece” of the shop. You can “buy” a meter of space (100 euros), they will gift you a todo modo notebook and a new TODO DOMO – Todo Modo sportina. More info can be found here.
Coffee (my fuel – my love in life) is also available to order if you want to support local businesses. I order mine from Caffe Piansa (they locally roast in Tuscany – we normally go for the “miscela classica”) and Ditta Artigianale in Florence is now closing all locations but you can order their excellent array of coffee online too.
My local butcher Luca Menoni (based in Sant’Ambrogio) is now offering home delivery (free for residents of Florence, Fiesole and Bagno a Ripoli). There are two conditions for ordering meat.
? orders must arrive the day before for the next day;
? as soon as the order is ready, they will call or send a message in advance to let you know the full amount which they ask you to have ready to reduce the time of contact between them and you. For orders, email [email protected] or call 055.2480778 from 7am-2pm.
Marco Gemelli of Il Forchettiere also brought to my attention that many local chefs in Florence are starting to offer takeaway services for their customers which they can reserve via social media. Old school joint Trattoria Da Burde for example is showcasing certain dishes by the day: trippa (tripe) on Thursdays, baccala (cod) on Fridays that you can order via their Facebook page and pick up. Giovanni Santarpia, hands down the best pizza-maker in town is now offering pizza delivery from his newly-opened restaurant – just call Tel +39 0559338245 to place an order.
Since we’re all at home – what better time to enjoy making the recipes of Emiko Davies who has three cookbooks with recipes from north to south. You can follow the youtube channel of Judy Witts-Francini – who offers so much interesting cooking advice in Tuscany, order her cookbook, or save these fab tips by Grape Tours. Support those like Christina offering video lectures via Patreon memberships.
Options at a Distance
The artisans that we love so much in Florence are especially vulnerable to this crisis. One solution is to order their products online and support them from afar, in fact my friend Sara Amrhein just compiled this blog post with artisan suggestions from Creative People in Florence.
For more references – I have a list that I made this November of Made in Italy gifts from Tuscany that you could support. Suggestions include:
- A leather handbag or wallet – made-to-order by artisan Stephanie aka Frau Leman (I am the proud owner of a new bucket bag made by her that I am in love with!)
- A handmade wood item: both decorative or to wear by local artisan Jane.
- A necklace, earrings or even a workshop voucher to make a piece yourself for a future Italy trip by artisan Sara Amrhein of Creative People in Florence. Her pieces are bold, contemporary and some of my favorite gifts.
- Leather jacket, shoes, belt from Benheart – a true artisan based in Florence that I love and adore.
- A beautiful handbag or wallet from the brothers of Cuioofficine – whose work features the lovely marbled paper that we adore from Florence.
- A handmade leather bound notebook customized by Erin Ciulla of Il Torchio.
- A handcrafted set of earrings (I love the Arabian nights version), ring or necklace from Joy Franklin – my recent interview in “locals I love.”
- Order Extra Virgin Olive Oil from organic winery and oil producer Fattoria Poggiopiano.
- A custom ring or jewellery piece from contemporary artisans Officine Nora
- Florence Factory is an excellent source of artisan-made goods – contact them on social media for a quote on any given item that takes your fancy.
My friends who own Pitti Gola e Cantina wine bar and Osteria della Enoteca offer a really wonderful wine club with vintages selected by the gentlemen of Enoteca Pitti Gola e Cantina each Spring and Fall for Reds and Winter for Bubbles. They include tasting notes and detailed descriptions of the wineries and by signing up you can help them recoup the massive cancellations they’ve had so far this month and beyond.
Coral of Curious Appetite who has also lost most of her Spring business thus far offers a gourmet food club with curated gourmet goodies that can be shipped directly to your home. Perks include products listed with regional food fact sheets, recipes to accompany each mailing, contributed by Tuscan food writers, personalized notes from the team at Curious Appetite and shipping costs included for most of the US (depending on state).
Consider subscribing to publications that you love all year long that write about Italy. We have a free newsletter subscription here (and a free Ebook with recipes) at Italy Magazine or shop in their MadeinItaly marketplace and The Florentine is one subscription well worth the price. The Local Italy has gone above and beyond with their reporting locally and in order to survive they too rely on subscriptions. This Tuscan Life produces a beautiful paper-copy magazine that I love to have at home – ask how you can receive one for yourself. Also worth supporting: Kathy McCabe’s popular newsletter and TVshow “Dream of Italy”.
For resources beyond Florence: make sure to follow An American in Rome – an excellent resource in Lazio, Erica Firpo who just write this wonderful post from Rome, Wanted in Rome, and Romewise. My friend Maria of HeartRome wrote this beautiful letter. Monica Cesarato is based in Venice. Here is the official Italian government website offering real-time Coronavirus updates.
Amanda of Revealed Rome also posted this wonderful article offering tips on how you can help here.
To donate to various hospitals around Italy – there are a number of GoFundMe links to raise money for overrun hospitals and intensive care wards as well as this link to donate to the Italian Red Cross.
On a personal note: if you would like to donate for the upkeep of this blog it will be greatly appreciated. My work, like many others during this period, has been affected and for now we just have to wait, see, and hope things will get back to normal, eventually.
I will be updating this post regularly as information comes in, please comment, share and be part of the discussion.