Italian authorities imposed nationwide travel restrictions Monday, grounding the country’s 60 million inhabitants. With more than 10,000 registered cases of the coronavirus, Italy is the second-largest center of the rapidly spreading virus after China.
Italian authorities restricted travel to and from northern regions of Italy, and local governments shut down clubs and museums and mandated restaurants to keep customers at least 1 meter — roughly 3 feet — apart.
BuzzFeed News spoke to an American who lives in Italy, Anne Wingenter, 51, about how her life has changed. She’s a professor at a Loyola University Chicago campus in Rome, where she’s lived since 2003. (Wingenter’s answers have been edited for clarity.)
How did you hear about the shutdown?
Anne Wingenter: I was out with friends last night at a bar to have an aperitivo ... While we were at this bar, one of my friends got a notification that they were going to lock down the whole country. It’s still not clear to me what that really means.
How has Rome changed since the government started implementing changes?
I noticed that there are places that I walked by when I went to the market this morning that were closed. The grocery stores are still open. I was trying to figure out what shelves looked particularly empty to see what kinds of things people were stocking up on. I didn’t notice any obvious shortages.
[The grocery stores] set up little stations here with spray bottles and disposable rubber gloves. Everyone in the supermarket has these rubber gloves on, which seems ridiculous, but everyone was doing it and so I was doing it too.
I was at the market on Saturday and a lot of the vendors in the market were wearing masks. Walking down, I noticed some gelaterias and restaurants that have “closed for holiday” signs, but I don’t know if that was because of the shutdown or not.
It’s been hard for Italians to stop the cheek kissing [to greet each other], and you see people moving in and wondering, are we doing this or not doing this?
There are still people out and about. It’s not Planet of the Apes, yet. But it’s weird.
Did you do anything to prepare?
No…not personally. You know, I’m washing my hands. I’m trying not to touch my face. There are people who are buying masks.
I did make sure that I was stocked up on wine. But yeah…I don’t think I have done anything else differently. Maybe I’ll regret that in a little while.
What about your social life? Has that been affected?
I haven’t avoided going out, but there are a number of things that are completely shut down. Movie theaters and clubs are closed. As of yesterday, even restaurants and bars are supposed to close earlier. So there’s not a lot of places for gatherings.
The weather here is gorgeous. Romans tend to do their gatherings in the piazza. The numbers are much smaller. I will probably stay home more. I’ve had some friends, the people I met up with yesterday, they didn’t wanna come and didn’t wanna take public transportation to get there.
As a professor who works with US students, how has work changed for you?
When the State Department raised the threat level to 3, that happened a couple of weeks ago, that was when they started talking about various plans of going forward and ultimately decided to send students home.
We are scrambling to find a way for students to finish the semester abroad without losing credits. For a lot of people, the main thing has been to adjust to working from home. That said, there’s going to be a lot of worries about the longer-term economic repercussions of this.
We’re finishing a semester, but we just got an announcement that some of our classes are going to be canceled. Some folks who work as adjuncts, for them teaching over the summer is very crucial. They have no protections from that economic hit. There are similarities with certain kinds of employees like that [in other industries], and that’s gonna affect people.
Personally, I have the equivalent of tenure, but that doesn’t mean anything if the program shuts down, because parents have concerns about sending future students to Italy.
The transition to move everything online is not much work, but with something like a study abroad program, there’s no point of moving things online as a long-term model. It’s not “study abroad,” if there’s no going abroad. That’s a concern.
Also, I am sure [my husband] Lorenzo [who is now also working from home] and I are going to drive each other crazy. But again, we’re not locked down to the point where we can’t leave the house.
What was surprising to you?
I really didn’t think that they were going to shut down all travel. I was going to go to London. I was supposed to go to a conference in Qatar last week that was canceled. A few things like that.
It’s a bit surreal to think you can’t go on a plane and can’t go anywhere. That seems very 19th century. [I think of] the ship that got turned away and, as a historian, this feels like “oh that’s a cholera ship!”
Intellectually, I know that we’re living amidst [a potential] pandemic, but beyond that knowledge, it feels like, ok, well, we do this for now and see what happens.
I typically spend the summer in the states with my mom because I don’t teach. I worry that I might have trouble doing that. But it just seems very unlikely [that the ban will last that long]. I think about being far away from my family and what it might mean. I think about that more about the potential spread in the states. It’s really dramatic to take a country of 60 million people and tell people they can’t go anywhere, but living and being on the ground it doesn’t seem that dramatic.