As It Happens

'Complex' mood of relief and fear as Italy starts lifting COVID-19 lockdown, writer says

In late March, Italian writer Francesca Melandri wrote a letter “from your future” to readers in places soon-to-be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic. Now, As It Happens checks in with her as Italy starts to lift its coronavirus restrictions.

Francesca Melandri says she has mixed feelings on the 1st day of Italy's gradual re-opening

A worker of the Calzaturificio M.G.T shoe factory in Castelnuovo Vomano, central Italy, has his temperature checked at the entrance of the factory upon his return to work on May 4. (Domenico Stinellis/The Associated Press)


In late March, Italian writer Francesca Melandri wrote a letter in the Guardian newspaper to readers in places soon to be hit by the COVID-19 pandemic, from the perspective of someone already living in Europe's hardest-hit country.

Now, as Italy starts to pare back its two-month lockdown, Melandri says she feels relief and uncertainty. 

The COVID-19 pandemic has stunted the global economy and resulted in more than 3.5 million confirmed cases of infection worldwide, according to figures compiled by CBC News. More than 210,700 cases have been confirmed in Italy, resulting in more than 28,800 deaths. 

As of May 4, Italy allowed certain businesses to re-open, and five million manufacturing workers returned to their jobs. Still, Italy is in a deep recession and the tourism industry upon which it depends is not back up and running. 

The country also has new socialization guidelines — mocked for being overly bureaucratic — which permit Italians to visit extended family and "stable affections." 

Here is part of Melandri's conversation with As It Happens host Carol Off.

Francesca, what did you do today with your reinstated freedoms? 

I went for a long walk, which had a scope, so it wasn't just walking. I went from A to B, had some things to do, but I took advantage of the fact that today we could go walking. And it was a gorgeous spring day and Rome was at its amazing best. So I really enjoyed it. 

That's a perfectly normal sounding thing to do. How does that contrast with what your life has been like? 

Rome was not totally normal looking.... No traffic, lots of bikes, many people walking. So it was not as deserted as it was one month ago, but it still wasn't the normal Rome. The smelly, noisy Rome. 

Italian cities test physical distancing measures as restrictions soon to ease

2 years ago
Duration 1:02
Picturesque Florence and Ostia prepare to slowly transition to a somewhat new normal beginning May 4.

You can have contact with people with whom you have "stable affections." What does that mean? 

Don't ask me. There has been, as you can imagine, a lot of jokes and joking and memes. And I mean, it's one of those things that it's easy to laugh at.

I think the rationale is — and that is something I totally agree with — don't go and have a rich social life. Just stick to a very few people.

People gather inside Rome's Villa Pamphili park as it reopened after several weeks of closure, part of nationwide limited easing of some lockdown restrictions. (Alessandra Tarantino/Associated Press)

How much of a kind of challenge to Italian culture is this? I mean, the Italians are  — can I say, they're tactile? They hug, they kiss, they embrace, they touch. How much is this going to change things? 

We cannot hug except the people you're living with. And I am not worried about that. Some people are saying, "Oh, we are losing our ability to do that." No, I don't think that it's going to be a problem. 

We will have many, many, many problems because of this crisis. But at least in Italy, this will not be one of them. 

In late March 2020, Italian writer Francesca Melandri wrote a letter to fellow Europeans about what they could expect to feel as physical distancing measures shut down parts of their countries in response to COVID-19. (F. Mantovani)

What can you tell us about our future now? Because we are now where you were some weeks ago.

The mood here is complex. There is a lot of relief.

At the same time, there is a lot of fear and worry. We don't know what will happen. The virus is still around. It's not over yet and it's not going to be over [for] a long time. 

Plus, many people didn't have a beautiful walk like I had, but had to go back to work, which could be worrying in itself. 

Everybody's very cautious. I would say even in the relief or partial relief, there is a strong feeling of caution. Everybody's saying, "Let's wait and see."

Do you think it's possible that you are emerging out into a different world in Rome?

I don't think we're emerging now in a different world. What I mean is that this is not even remotely the end of the whole coronavirus crisis and the several crises which this crisis will inevitably cause. 

The pandemic itself will not be over until the vaccine will be found or at least some very, very strong and efficient cure. So this is a marathon. 

Today, at least here in Italy, this is just really the opening of a new chapter. But my guess is that we're really still very much at the beginning chapters of a long story, which will take a long time to unfold. 

And when people say the world will be different when we come out of this, I don't think they mean today. They mean at the end of the whole thing, because that will be very transforming, inevitably, whether for good or for worse.

Written by Justin Chandler. Interview produced by Kate Swoger. Q&A has been edited for length and clarity. 

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