A letter from Cortona

Helena Fracchia, School in Cortona Director, reports on daily life in Italy under COVID-19

Helena Fracchia - 19 March 2020

Greetings from Cortona!

Hello everyone, this is coming from Helena and Maurizio in self isolation (well, with 6 cats!)

The situation here is dramatic and certainly tragic in the north. So far in Tuscany there are 1,482+ cases of COVID 19. Everyone is making a real effort to stop the virus by following all the rules of distance between people, and no socializing. And anyhow, there is no place to socialize, the police patrol the town, bars and restaurants are closed.

Self isolation in theory would end today (March 19) as it is two weeks since my last public contact on March 5 but in fact it will continue as the entire 'stay at home' rule in a sense supersedes that self isolation two week period and has been or will shortly be extended for another month. And to be honest, even if it were not the case, I would still not go anywhere except to the grocery store and the pharmacy.  The grocery store now takes my order by WhatsApp message, they prepare everything, and call when it is ready to be picked up. They bring it out, I pay with a bank card, and off I go. No contact closer than two meters and all of us with gloves, and them with masks and me with a scarf around my nose and mouth. 

Neither of us have any symptoms, and I take our temperature every morning.

The hardest thing  for me is thinking about all the older people (of which we are now a part) up in Cortona, normally sitting contentedly in the late afternoon sun,  bald heads nodding and bejeweled bosoms moving as they gossip with one another. I so hope that they are now all at home and safe for the duration of the crisis.

There are now five cases in Cortona, and as my fellow Cortonese are not actually following the rules, the police have been asked to become more stringent in checking the self certification and applying, when necessary, hefty fines. 

In town everything is closed, and the police patrol both in town and outside on the major roads to make sure that if you go out you have a certificate saying where you are going and why. Indeed, the only places allowed are the grocery stores and the pharmacies (and cat food stores). There have been several arrests of people who wandered out of their houses into the main piazza, and those people have been fined. Anyone who is not instantly recognizable as part of the community is stopped and asked about why they are in Cortona and asked for proof of residency. In reality, we walk around the garden here in Pergo, but you do not see people walking up our country lane anymore as you need a certificate for that too.

The Italian spirit though is coming out in the deserted town. There have been flash mobs of applause for the medical workers, exhausted, overworked, and certainly in the front lines. Various towns (Naples, Siena, Bologna, Florence, etc.) have had people singing the national anthem from their balconies and whole city blocks joining in. Cortona has instead put Italian flag strobe lights up on the Town Hall. You can check on the Cortona situation on the Comune of Cortona Facebook page which is now published in English as well. The new mayor has been terrific about providing a daily update, usually video, and that is very reassuring and keeps us informed. 

We think of you often. I just want to urge you to follow strictly whatever regulations go into effect in Canada: it is the only way to stop the virus. And on that note, please, take care of yourselves and stay well.

Cari saluti and hugs to you all from a distance of more than 2 metres, H and M

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