A letter from Italy to my dear friends in Bermuda

Dearest Friends,

This is your first day of official lockdown on the island. Some of you have been fortunate enough (and smart enough) to be able to self isolate for the last couple of weeks  and work from home so you already have embarked on a new journey. Now we are all on standby together preparing for the new lives that will be awaiting us.

I’ve been on lockdown for 1 month and working from home for 6 weeks.

I have been living, breathing, sleeping, waking up with this virus so long now it has taken over most of the thoughts in my mind, even if I limit my daily dose of local and global news. It has been and still is a roller coaster ride of emotions. 

I haven’t posted any of my personal situation, feelings and perceptions as I just have not been able to and did not want to add my personal opinions to the already continuous barrage of information.

I did send a couple of funny memes in the first few days of lockdown until I finally realised how deep we were into the s***  and no longer found anything to laugh about and thought it disrespectful to those who had been affected and to all those working in the field: doctors, nurses, caretakers, etc., working around the clock to help us cope with this “plague.” Nonetheless, I understand our human need to laugh in order to overcome dire situations that haven’t actually touched us personally, and I won’t judge you if you continue to do so. 

I’m not in the epicentre of the epidemic in Italy; however, it has hit home. I’m an English teacher in a linguistic High School with around 2000 students, as such, in contact with a lot of people every day. I know of several people who have contracted the virus: colleagues, parents and friends, most of them thankfully with light symptoms. On the other hand a few are still in the hospital, gasping for air, fighting for their lives. A good friend’s father of mine lives in a home for the elderly. He was really sick with the flu this January and now has pneumonia and his condition is deteriorating. The medics have yet to put him on a ventilator, so as to keep it available for someone with a higher chance of survival. Before the lockdown, my buddy would visit his father every day. He hasn’t seen him for a month. Helping loved ones, and ourselves, to get ready for their departure from this world is heartbreaking in normal circumstances. My mate’s situation is devastating: not being able to ever see your parents again coupled with the knowledge that they’re dying alone. That is what this virus is doing to our elderly generation, to our parents and maybe even to us. 

I have students of mine in lockdown who are not at home living the life of a “normal” kid but instead praying and crying desperately for the return of fathers, mothers and grandparents who have been taken away to intensive care. On a “positive” note, we are still fortunate here in Bologna, as the hospitals are not overwhelmed as they are in Lombardy, and there is still space for new Covid-19 patients that need \intensive care treatment. As time goes by, the number of available hospital beds are increasing and more life support machines are being made available. (Among others Ferrari has begun making ventilators and respirators.) My widowed 80 year-old mother-in-law with various underlying health problems is boarded up in her house alone with her cat 100 km from us. I don’t know how she will come out of this mentally and hope that her health stays strong. A good friend of mine who works as a tourist guide will be out of work indefinitely. He lives month by month and won’t be able to pay his rent this month. He’s almost 60 years old and lives on his own in downtown Bologna in an area which was once the hub of the city. He calls it the dead zone now. I ask you my dear friends: Will you be planning a trip to the land of the “dolce vita” any time soon?

All around me people are losing loved ones and older family members and relatives. The anguish caused due to separation from the people we love can be overwhelming. Even just the thought of it. Most of us are in our early 50s and are not mentally ready yet to have to separate from our own “young” families and friends – the lives we are living that we have fallen in love with. We just don’t know how our bodies will handle this virus. Do we now have to accept this and come to terms with it as part of everyday life? With still no end in sight, this virus doesn’t seem to be going anywhere soon; and it’s starting to look like it just might become a seasonal epidemic.

One thing I’ve definitely been learning during this time of confinement is: it’s seriously time to wake the f*** up. They were well aware of the possibility of an outbreak like this in China and Southern Asia and they seem to have been much better prepared than us. I guess they had SARS and Mers before. I have just been sitting over here in the West/Europe oblivious to it all. There might have been a slight bleep on my personal radar with swine and bird flu. I was watching Wuhan and even joking about it over my amazo morning pastry and espresso with my Chinese barman who had just come back from Hubei province. I was asking him what the hell you call a dude from Wuhan – a Wuhanian? – with no idea of the biological tsunami that was on its way. Just to think: it was ravaging Italy, and still, most of the West, just sat back and watched, as if it was news from some foreign land, another planet. As if it wasn’t going to affect them. I hate to say it but I did the exact same thing.

And it was such a big f****** wave not to have seen it.

Lo tsunami del Coronavirus sulle startup

Actually, it seems like some people still don’t see it. And they’re probably already up to their necks. That’s the thing, we just don’t know who has had and still might have this son-of-a-b****

I wasn’t sure whether to start this letter in a soft or very direct and blunt way. I don’t want to preach, but if this letter is coming across that way, then I hope that I am preaching to the choir.I just want you to know that you and I are at the beginning of this, our new reality. I’m Bermudian like you, through and through, and we spent many a night together in our teens hanging out under the stars contemplating the universe, our destiny and our place in it. Growing up on the island gives you a whole different perspective on the world which just cannot be taken from a city life in which most of our human brothers and sisters are now born into. 

Even though I went to university in Canada for 4 years, when I left Bermuda to travel around the world, I still had a very island-boy mentality. I guess I kinda thought I was special, being one of the “60000 alcoholics clinging to a rock!” I know of only three other Bermudians living in Italy, so it’s pretty unusual when you tell  an Italian you’re from the island of Bermuda. I’ve always told them the grass is always greener … I think the pastures right now are actually a little better on our isles and also the islands of the Caribbean regarding covid-19 and the possibility of being infected. I wouldn’t be surprised if some of our fellow islanders decided to return to Bermuda from places like England where I see many have emigrated to lately. For any of my friends who are in New York (and anywhere else that is getting hit hard) reading this, my prayers and as much positive energy that I can muster are coming at you from across the pond. Please, if you still can, get back to Bermy. I thought about it for a moment myself, but I just don’t have enough roots on the island anymore to have been able to make the move and financially support me and my family for a long period of time, on an island which I’m sure is now beginning to feel a strong economic backlash due to the necessary closing of borders.

I’ve read about  people who are worried about not being able to fly their kites on Good Friday. I can understand that but, unfortunately, I don’t think they understand the enormity of what you could be facing on the island in terms of the full-on health crisis that has already overrun countless hospital systems around the globe. You guys would be better informed than me on the KEMH capacity to deal with it. 

I don’t believe that Bermuda will get hit hard with the precautions that have now been put in place and I don’t think it’is a myth about viruses not doing well in warmer climates. Nonetheless it is on the island and that is an EXTREME DANGER until the virus can be contained and localized. Growing up in Bermuda, I never remember having had a fever in the winter from the flu. Do you? Since I’ve been living here In Italy, I’ve been getting sick with the flu more frequently as I age, and I was considering getting my first preseason anti-flu shot last autumn. I guess that is no longer optional.

So I, perhaps, like some of you, hope and pray there is truth in this, and that Bermuda, and especially the people more susceptible to the virus, will be spared.  

Unfortunately, I think most traditional events will be cancelled. The Peppercorn Ceremony has already been cancelled. I can’t imagine there being any Bermuda Day, Pride Parade, Cup match, marathons, football matches, concerts, raft ups for the near future. Any event, anywhere, where there were previously large gatherings of people, is just going to be dramatically different. I’m sure you heard about the Champions League game played between an Italian team, Atalanta, and a Spanish team, Valencia, played at San Siro stadium in Milan on February 19th. They call it Game Zero. Lombardy is the hardest hit region in Italy and Atalanta plays out of Bergamo, which is considered one of the epicenters of coronavirus in Italy.

Bermuda has the time bomb called New York right on its doorstep. You all would know much better than me how strong the connection between the Big Apple and Bermuda is. Actually, I shouldn’t call NYC a time bomb, since it has already exploded and the debris field is still widening. The Tri-State Area appears to be on the same path as Italy, if not worse. 

Bermuda has the unique possibility to stop the spread of Covid-19 through lockdown, social distancing and self-isolation. The entire population could even be tested for the virus. There is a little town in Italy (Robbio, PV) with 6000 inhabitants. Each paid €50 to have the test done – a typical blood test – not the prick test as I believe it’s still not ready. This test however is a test on antibodies and doesn’t actually  tell if the patient is positive right now but shows that the antibodies have been active. I believe that only the swab test lets us know if the patient is infected at the time of testing.  If the prick test is positive it might mean that the patient has built up immunity to the virus. and could then return to work. Big question mark??? I don’t think Bermuda has testing capabilities but perhaps laboratory technicians could be brought in to do this. This is a topic that would need to be addressed through consultation between local and international professionals working in the health and medical sectors. Obviously this would need organisation on a massive and unprecedented scale but those are the times that we are living in.

After isolation and testing in this perhaps only hypothetical dreamlike situation you would have an island with no cases. The value of a covid free Bermuda is not to be underestimated.

Opening up to the outside world;  to New York, to the US in general, to Europe, Italy, to cruise ships to international sports,  Bermudians going abroad for work and study for vacations. When do you think that will happen again? Will there be screening at every port of entry constantly? 

Some of you might be saying that these are draconian restrictions. Boris J initially was talking about letting the virus spread through the community in England in order to create herd immunity but he quickly changed his idea on that. I think that Sweden is one of the few countries that has not implemented any restrictions as they say they will leave it up to the people – that they believe that their population has the good sense to social distance etc etc All the best to them, truly. They are right by saying we are going to have to learn how to live with this virus. We will see how that goes though. First here in Italy we need to flatten the curve. South Korea has done the same thing as Sweden with apparently successful results but we, coming from the land of freedom and liberty and sometimes rebellion against “the man” I know will and are finding it difficult to accept. I know that I was pretty pissed off at the beginning and thought the government here was being over dramatic. During the first two weeks, when they only closed down the schools, half of Italy basically went into party mode!

Anyways Bermuda friends – you and I alike are going to have to get used to it.  The chapter, rather the book containing the stories of our previous lives, is closing if not already closed. Time to get down to writing the next. We are really going to have to put our minds together and work with it. 

Things have gotten slightly better in Italy. Perhaps better is not the right word to use in this case. Things aren’t as bad as they were. It seems that the acceleration of new cases has slowed down. Perhaps we are at the top of that Curve that we talk about flattening so much nowadays. How long we will hang at this apex is still unknown and there are different peaks foreseen for different regions

We are on lockdown officially until the 13th of April.  That’s about the same time when you guys in Bermuda should finish your two weeks and get back to your life. The experts here however are talking about the middle of May until Italy goes into phase two. I’m a teacher and we are pretty sure schools won’t be opening again this year. It’s still a little early for that decision but how are we going to put a mass of young people together with an older proportion of the population which teachers basically are. Most likely we won’t return to life behind school desks. School as we know it is over. we are going ahead with learning online but there will be no graduation parties for seniors students among other loses. We will see how we are to face the situation in the schools again in September.

So I would be surprised if you guys are only on lockdown for two weeks but once again “Bermuda is another world”.  I believe the number of cases in New York is actually predicted to peak in another two weeks time so the island is not going to have any connections for some time

Look how long Italy has been on lockdown. Yes – for sure not all citizens have abided the law and still don’t and there were actually a couple of mass exoduses of southern Italians leaving the industrial North and going down south. (The fines have been in the thousands and apparently will go on the offenders criminal record) My little town of 18,000 (Budrio – just outside of Bologna) still has new cases every day. Unfortunately the virus has gotten into a home for the elderly even though it has been closed to external visitors for the last few weeks

When it is time – whether April 13 or the middle of May – the government will have to decide what to do  based on the  situation at that time and if they do decide to ease up on the restrictions it will be extremely gradual. More realistically, as experts are saying, we are talking about Phase 2 of our existence with covid-19 around the middle of May. 

I would imagine that the government will allow productive factories to commence operations again and then slowly work their way down the line to finally allowing bars and restaurants and the likes. I heard that Italy has one million foreign workers gathering crops from the fields during harvests. Most of those workers come from eastern European countries like Romania and have returned home due to the virus. Who is going to do this backbreaking poorly payed work now?

On a local level perhaps we will be allowed us to walk freely around our communities once again  but we know that when we do, everything will have changed. Everything will be different for the young and especially the elderly who will no longer be able to go on trips together or meet together in their clubs, dances etc. The old age pensioners here had a more active social life than me

The virus has not gone away. we hope to identify it wherever it may be; get a hold on it but we know that it is going to be here a while. Italy prays too that with the hot summer that has been forecasted that the virus will be placated but we know that our lives have changed forever and we are trying to visualize our future 

We know that until there is a vaccine and a cure we are still in the s***  and we know that a vaccine isn’t the Golden Bullet either. We know now that even if  we have an anti -flu shot you can still get the flu. Apparently anti-influenza shots are only 60% effective and so that means even after the vaccine people are still going to be getting infected by covid-19

I don’t particularly want to go into the discussion of masks and gloves that is happening over there now.  we’ve already gone through it. You’ve gotta wear them here now anytime you want to go into a grocery store. If you want to eat you have to do it. Plain and simple. You don’t have a choice. It’s not compulsory to walk around with one yet but I would imagine it will happen soon.  I would like to note that we have been told that we don’t need the FFP2 or FFP3 masks as they are called here (N95 over there I believe) and that surgical masks are suffice. 

That was a lot to put down in writing to you my friends. I haven’t written such a long letter for donkey’s years; so I don’t have a sweet conclusion and I guess as I said before, it’s only the beginning.

Sending you as much positive energy I can from across the pond


P.s If any of my friends reading this are involved in the grocery store business or know someone who is  – i’m pasting an idea here –  “Carrefour (supermarket) has created a new online shopping service with home delivery throughout Italy in record time. Pre-packaged boxes divided by food theme and useful to meet the needs of two people for a week.”

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