Coronavirus: What it is like on Rome’s empty streets

You’d expect the strain to show after nearly a week confined to your home. 

Each time you need to go out, you have to complete a form declaring an essential reason why.

It’s the interpretation of essential that is building tension here. Among neighbours. Among friends. Among people documenting their daily walks on social media.

In theory, there are three reasons you are allowed to leave your house. For essential work, to buy food or if you need physical activity.

But resentment is building as some appear to be bending the rules.

Physical exercise is allowed as long as you’re alone and it’s not used as an excuse to socialise. But it’s clearly being loosely defined. And loosely enforced.

“The people not leaving the house really resent the people who have taken their dogs out for walk or even just gone for a walk because they want to,” one mother in Florence tells me.

She’s now been at home with two young children for nearly a week.

“The words need to be crystal clear. They say you can go out if it’s essential, and people say ‘well going for a run is essential to me’. It’s getting me annoyed. I feel we’re all in this together. If everyone went out for a short walk then what would be the point?”

I encountered several joggers and dog walkers in the otherwise deserted area around the Vatican City.

Absent of its usual 20,000 visitors a day. One man who stops to stare at the empty square insists he needs to go running.

“I always run therefore…” his sentence trails off.

“The important thing is the protection measures, the separation measures,” he concludes as an explanation.

But many insist the protection measure is that people stay in their homes.

To flout the rules now would result in a longer lockdown later.

One person whose job is considered an essential service is taxi driver Stefano Capelli. Though work is so scarce, it’s almost not worth his while.

“It’s unthinkable…15 days ago it would have been unthinkable,” he says as we rattle through Rome’s empty streets.

“Everything’s stopped,” he continues, “I’m earning €30 to €40 a day.”

I ask him how long he can survive for financially.

“I’m not sure I’ll still be able to buy food by the end of the month,” he says.

Buying food is one of the few reasons people can still go out. And the queues outside supermarkets are getting longer.

But it’s not Italy as you know it. People stand silently. Most wearing face masks. Few smile. There’s a sadness. But there’s no stockpiling. People buy what they need in silent solidarity for each other.

As the number of lives being claimed by this virus continues to climb steeply, other European countries are looking to learn from Italy and avert a similar crisis.

They too could heed the lessons of a lengthy lockdown – the rules left open to exploitation or interpretation.

But perhaps the most positive lesson so far is the Italians, so famous for their love of sharing food, have made no visible effort to panic buy. They’ve left enough for everyone.

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