Coronavirus: The lockdown has begun in Italy

What usually is full of crowds in the piazzas and squares, is now a ghost town.

March 16, 2020, 6:34 AM

ABC’s Cheri Preston reporting for ABC News Radio’s "Perspective" podcast on Italy's complete lockdown.

What would it be like if a whole country shut down? That’s the reality now for many people residing in Italy, where coronavirus cases have spiked, leading to a lockdown across the entire nation.

ABC's Megan Williams has been on lockdown with her husband and two children in their apartment and explains to Preston what it’s like living in Rome during this time, “it's surreal, there’s just no way to really describe how strange it is to go through the city which is normally loud, boisterous, full of people gathering … occupying the city in the chaotic, joyful way that Romans occupy their city."

Listen to the full interview with Cheri Preston and the rest of this past week's highlights here:

What usually is full of crowds in the piazzas and squares, is now a ghost town. “To walk past all of these beautiful monuments that you can now get really close to, but to see so few people in them is just a very eerie feeling,” Williams said.

The basic message currently is not to go out. While essential places like food, pharmacy and doctors’ offices remain open, it’s advised to stay inside.

Supermarkets mirror a nightclub scene with a bouncer at the door, only allowing one guest in at a time, and keeping three to four feet in between people.

Williams explains that “Italians are putting all of their cultural impulses aside and staying in, and keeping that minimum distance.”

Hospitals in Italy, as well as the elderly there are most at risk. The average age of death is 81 -- with one in five people living in Italy being over the age of 65. Intensive care units are overwhelmed with the number of patients coming in, causing workers to cancel plans or vacations, and preparing to be all hands on deck.

PHOTO: A woman holds a light during a flash mob " Italia Patria Nostra" (Italy Our Country) at the Garbatella district in Rome on March 15, 2020.
A woman holds a light during a flash mob " Italia Patria Nostra" (Italy Our Country) at the Garbatella district in Rome on March 15, 2020. - Italy reacts with the solidarity of flash mobs circulating on social media to make people "gather" on balconies at certain hours, to show lights, candles, flashlights or smartphones's light . Italy on Sunday recorded 368 new deaths from the novel coronavirus, its highest one-day increase to date, taking the total to 1,809, the most outside China, official data showed.
Andreas Solaro/AFP via Getty Images

When the announcement of COVID-19’s severity was first released, many still went about their day normally. Schools have been closed, while parks have been packed. People gathering for picnics, and kids playing soccer has been the sight for many walking around the city. But as the number of cases skyrocket and decrees are passed, residents are coming together and taking the situation very seriously.

"I saw a police officer hand out a fine to people who don't respect the rules and that was a group of kids playing soccer," Williams noted as she ventured around the empty city, “there has been a change, people are following the rules now but it took a few days certainly, outside of that initial red zone in northern Italy which was locked down two weeks ago.”

But as Williams shares, "this is a situation, you know, if there’s a silver lining to it … that seems to be transforming a country that is not renowned the world over for its capacity to follow rules, and Italians will joke about that as well."

While food stores, pharmacies, and doctors’ offices remain open for the time being, wine stores are also staying open. Italy categorizes their wine as a food; therefore, wine is still accessible.

The last thing to do right now is panic. The virus is spreading, yet there are ways to control it. If you’re sick, stay home, clean and disinfect. Avoid touching your face, frequently wash your hands and use caution when sneezing or coughing. Also be aware that while the virus may not impact everyone, some people may be asymptomatic

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