Italy has been hit hard by coronavirus deaths, with over 13,000 total coronavirus fatalities to date. “The worst part’s been witnessing all these elderly people just fade away and die by the hundreds every day,” says Aura Latorre, a Venezuelan immigrant who now resides in southern Italy. She shares on the podcast what it’s like to live in a country under quarantine, how daily life has changed, the attitude of the Italian people, what she hopes Italians will learn from this time, and much more.
We also cover these stories:
- 6.6 million Americans filed for unemployment benefits in the last full week of March.
- Another sad milestone: There have now been over 5,000 coronavirus deaths in the U.S.
- The Democratic National Convention, originally set to take place in Milwaukee in July, has been delayed one month.
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Rachel del Guidice: I’m joined today on The Daily Signal Podcast by Aura Latorre. She joins us from Bari, which is on the Adriatic Sea in southern Italy. Aura, it’s great to have you on The Daily Signal Podcast.
Aura Latorre: Thank you very much. Thank you.
Del Guidice: To start off, can you just tell us a little bit about yourself and your job and if it’s been impacted by the coronavirus?
Latorre: I’m from Venezuela originally. Today it’s 10 years that I moved in in Italy. So yes, my work is in media and communication. We have a platform that gives communication and marketing for a company’s manufacturing, design, furniture, lighting, carpeting.
The problem is that since we can do all our work, [since] everything is digital, our clients are not, they are manufacturers and they’re the part of Italy mostly hit, that is the northern part, where almost all the middle- and high-end furniture and lighting is made. So everything’s pretty much on a stall.
Del Guidice: Aura, can you set the scene for us right now on what things are like in Bari?
Latorre: Everything’s a little bit eerie. There’s no people in the street. This is a small city. It’s [a] medium-sized city. And everything pretty much switches off at 7 p.m., everything closes. But there’s just a little bit of people on the streets.
The only problem we have got in, maybe in the beginning of the lockdown, it was people, they didn’t want to follow the instructions from the mayor—just to not assemble, not to have more than two people together. So that was a little bit of a problem.
People were not taking this seriously from the beginning. And they would go running and meeting at the squares, and we are by the beach. So people would just want to do normal life and now people pretty much got it. And everything’s very quiet, which is, normally, it’s not the way Bari is. So it’s very strange.
Del Guidice: Yeah, I was going to ask you, … so apparently they’re not singing anymore. And as a follow-up to that, what is Italy like right now in your town especially? Are people still going outside for walks? What is allowed and what isn’t allowed?
Latorre: We have a very strict lockdown. We are not allowed to go out, just to within … up [to] 200 meters from home. If you have a dog, you can walk it. Simple stuff.
They said yesterday, the prime minister, that [to] walk about with your infant, it is allowed. But that’s pretty much it. And not even both parents, there has to be one parent taking the baby outside just for a little bit.
… You don’t have access again to this little parks. It is not about playing outside, it’s just about catching some fresh air and then [going] back to your house. So we have a very strict lockdown.
It’s not allowed that much to go running because they know that if … you go out running, there will be a lot of people. Yeah, it’s been very strict.
Del Guidice: Wow. So … you are able to go outside just for physical exercise, but are you needing permission slips or anything like that to prove that is what you’re doing or has it come to that yet or not?
Latorre: … We need to carry around an auto certification that you live in the neighborhood where you’re going or going out. They could ask you for the ID and for these, one of the certifications that you are a neighbor of that district, that you live there.
There has been a lot of fines already from people on the streets that are walking or just with other people and making conversation at squares so that we got to the point where people are being fined.
Del Guidice: I’m sure no day is typical for you just because things happen. And I don’t mean maybe it is typical now that you’re quarantined, but … because the quarantine is so strict, what have your days looked like?
Latorre: My days look like being at home. I work eight hours because I can carry on with my work, in my case. So I do 9 to 6 and I stay home. I go out only twice a week for grocery shopping. Fortunately, I don’t have to go to the doctor, I don’t have any conditions. So I’m one of the lucky ones. So that’s pretty much it. I stay home. I really stay home.
Del Guidice: You had mentioned before when we were setting up this email the eerie feeling that you perceive every time you go grocery shopping and how disheartening it is because you sense distrust among your neighbors. Can you tell us a little bit more about that?
Latorre: Yes, it’s when you’re walking on the sidewalk, people are just, they try to avoid even eye contact. It’s amazing. … People are very anxious.
… Every day at 6 p.m., we have the report from the national authorities on health. And they continue giving us these amazing, these horrible numbers of the death toll. Today it was 730 something. And that’s so [disheartening].
So … we feel we’re all under attack and the next person you find on the street could be the person that might get you infected. So it’s very strange. People are very friendly here and talkative and that is not it anymore.
Del Guidice: Has it sort of changed the mood of the Italian people and even their hospitality just because this is how Italians tend not to be, but in today’s society with coronavirus, it’s changed things.
Latorre: Absolutely, yes. Especially in the South. People here are very friendly and they will talk to everybody. And I, you saw me, I’m Venezuelan so … my physical aspects make you think that I’m not originally from Italy, so I’m always being asked questions about where I’m from, people are very curious, this is not happening. So yeah, you’re not talking to anyone.
Del Guidice: How are grocery stores doing where you’re at? I know in the states, we’re running low on things like toilet paper and cleaning supplies, but how are you all doing when it comes to the grocery and other things?
Latorre: We’re doing good. I haven’t encountered any problem when it comes to the grocery shopping or supplies or basic staples or even every time I go out and try to find even special things like, I don’t know, almonds or strawberries or whatever it is, import goods. I find everything. There’s no shortage of anything here.
We’re very lucky when it comes to what we consume, when it comes to food, everything is produced in Italy. So we haven’t had any problems and there hasn’t been any particular problems. Maybe in Sicily, a couple of weeks ago there were attempts [of] looting or something, but … there were just outlaws trying to profit from a difficult situation. But no. I’m not worried about that.
Del Guidice: So good to hear that that’s not a worry right now. I know you mentioned that you’re not really interacting with anyone, but if you have had any interactions with neighbors or friends, what have those been like?
Latorre: Oh, this moment? You mean normally?
Del Guidice: Yeah. If you have run into anyone, maybe a neighbor on your street or someone in your apartment, if you have talked to anyone, if that’s even happened, what has that been like?
Latorre: … I live in the city center so you can do everything by foot. So everything is very close. And … I used to see my friends, to meet my friends two or three times a week. So that is something that’s not happening.
You’re not allowed to invite anyone over—only the people that live in there, in the same household, are supposed to be together. So it’s not visiting people or anything. This is not holiday. …
He who is isolated, who lives alone, should remain alone. We cannot take any chances. And that’s why they closed all activities and they closed all activities like beauty salons or cinemas, theaters. Everything’s closed.
So they even closed the bars, the typical bar where you go in the morning and have the coffee and your Cornetto, your croissant. They … even closed those. … The people avoid any social contact apart from your household.
Del Guidice: Have any parts of Italy been put under martial law or [are] police patrolling without it actually being martial law?
Latorre: Well, we don’t have a curfew. So you pretty much can go out and do whatever you have got to do, grocery shopping, pharmacy, doctor, and go back. Or even if you work in a basic industry, you have to go to work but you need to carry your bonafide certification to show if you’re stopped.
So you see the patrol going around and just making sure that everyone’s safe and that’s there’s no problems. I haven’t seen, myself, anyone being stopped. But I talk to my friends every day and they all have these … stories that these things are happening. And they say it on TV. Today we had to fine 100 people because they were here, they were there.
… Also, we are exerting a little bit of a social control among us. People, when they see gatherings, they send a picture, they can do it anonymously to the mayor, the webpage profile. And yes, they let the authorities know … [about] these parts of the city where people are not following the rules. But we are not under martial law.
Del Guidice: The law enforcement, though, they have set up ways where Italians can basically tell law enforcement or their authorities, “Oh, I saw this social gathering going on”?
Latorre: Yes. Yeah.
Del Guidice: Interesting.
Latorre: Yes. They ask us to do that, though, to try to help each other and help them make people understand that they need to be home.
Del Guidice: Do you know anyone who has gotten coronavirus or any friends of friends? Have you heard of any personal stories of anyone you know being sick?
Latorre: I’ve got a friend of a friend whose children are in school, so one of the mothers are, yeah. I think they’ve been … to the hospital, but … they got better. But I don’t have any direct friend, fortunately, who has got it.
Del Guidice: That’s definitely fortunate to hear. What is your perspective of how the Italian government has handled the whole situation?
Latorre: I think they’re doing it well now. The thing is this is very strict and people are concerned about their civil rights … the basic freedoms.
But everything happens because we should have done this before. We should have done this in February when it was clear that something very wrong was happening.
We have these many flights direct from Milan and Rome to different parts of China and our airports were not closing. Then Italy closed those kind of flights. But then Germany kept on bringing people back and forth and many people just use German airports or French airports to get to Europe and then they just move by train.
So yes, we should have done this before. Maybe it didn’t have to be this bad, this strict, but then we got to the point where you cannot hide anymore.
And we were asked to social distance for real on March 9. So that’s three weeks, almost four weeks now.
But … they are constantly on TV. They are reassuring people, they’re telling people figures and what to do. And you have the Ministry of Health constantly giving advice, trying to, advising people on what fake news are around and trying to debunk myths and they pretty much every day, with the help of the mayors, [are] addressing the people and doing lives and answering questions.
I feel safe and I feel, for me, it’s best to be here than anywhere else in the world, I guess, in this situation.
Del Guidice: … Given that you think the quarantine might’ve started a little bit too late, do you have any idea when it might end?
Latorre: Well, countries that have been through this situation before, they’ve done pretty much eight weeks of quarantine. Whoever can stay at home, eight weeks seems to be the right amount of time. It seems like it is a lot, but it seems like if you don’t want to pay a higher price afterward, that’s the minimum you should keep the most of the people at home.
So I think it’s pretty much the end of April that we’re going to go this way. And then … we’re going to go back to normal, but little by little. I think there will be groups of people that will be allowed first. … It won’t be all at once.
Del Guidice: It’ll be more gradual.
Del Guidice: What has been the most difficult aspect of Italy’s coronavirus crisis for you personally? What has been the hardest part about what you’ve had to go through in the past couple of weeks and month?
Latorre: … It seems like the hospitals in the South of Italy are still hanging in there. Actually, we are getting patients from the North because the North is just a … different story. There it’s warfare still.
Today they were reporting that the number of deaths have been a little bit lower, but still, that’s way too much. But they have less people going into [readmission]. They have less people needing ventilators—I think that’s the name for it. So it seems like the contagion continues even if it’s decreasing, but they seem to be more stable now.
I think that the worst part’s been witnessing all these elderly people just fade away and die by the hundreds every day. That is something … that would all be very difficult to overcome and to get over from, if ever.
Del Guidice: Italy has such a large population of elderly people. That is really heartbreaking to see.
Latorre: Yes. We are the second-oldest population in Europe after Germany. And people live long here. You take pride [in seeing] Centennials going around and living their lives and that’s amazing. So yeah, getting to the point where you can make people live good, live very well for such a long time, and then something comes and just starts wiping them away, it’s heartbreaking.
Del Guidice: Oh, I cannot imagine. So looking at how hard it has been, are there any aspects of the situation that could be seen from any sort of a positive perspective?
Latorre: I don’t know. … There has never been a better moment to reflect on your daily lives, your daily life, your routine, what’s important for you. I think this is something that changes your perspective with everything.
From the appreciation you have for the things you buy, to the holidays you’re planning or you were planning, to the value of your family, the moments well-spent or the missed opportunities to be with people you really care about. I think this is a great moment for reassessing everything. And let’s see, I hope we can learn from that.
The worst thing we can hope for is to go back to normal. We should go to normal, but it’s a new normal and maybe not going back to the rush we had before. We were rushing through the day like no end. That was a little bit unhealthy, I guess.
Del Guidice: Aura, thank you for sharing that perspective. I hope a lot of people hear that and take that to heart because I think it’s something we all need to take to heart.
You mentioned earlier the need for ventilators and just the continuing death toll. We’ve heard a lot of news reports saying that there aren’t enough doctors or medical equipment in Italy to treat everyone. What are you seeing and hearing?
Latorre: … The problem is, especially from in the beginning, there was a lot of contagion among the health professionals. They pretty much didn’t know what they were dealing with. So many of them got sick and they had to be quarantined.
So … that’s for sure, that you don’t have enough personnel to replace such a hole. So some of them are going out from the quarantine and go back better equipped and more conscious of what they’re doing. And now it’s clear what’s going on. And that’s pretty much what’s been happening.
Also, we have universal health care, we pay a lot of taxes in Italy, but we have universal health care. So the problem is there’s been a disinvestment in the past 15 years when it comes to employing new doctors and improving the hospitals and everything.
Now, of course, a pandemia or the pandemic can occur every 100 years. You never expect to have these kinds of problems. The thing is it happened. This is the situation we have now and now we have a shortage of people that are currently working permanently in hospitals and in professional institutions.
So I think that is something that the government already said that they are about to change their policies in this matter and reinvest a lot more because this [has] been very important for us, to at least have the people have the opportunity to be treated regardless of their income or whatever it is. Because we are treated pretty much the same here when it comes to health.
So yes, there are a lot of doctors that, [un]fortunately, got sick. Some of them have died. They called back people that were already retired, which is a little bit dangerous because those are people over 60. So … they are part of the risk group. And then there has been these missions coming from abroad with doctors and nurses. But … that could be another problem because they don’t speak the language.
Anyway, yes, they had to call people that were retired or very young or just graduating.
Del Guidice: It complicates things a lot, for sure. So lastly, Aura, what would you want the United States and even the rest of the world to know about what Italy has been through?
Latorre: I think that the best lesson to learn here is never underestimate a threat. And never think that if your neighbor or neighboring country’s having a hard time, that it cannot happen to you.
And we must make sure that almost all people can have a continuous health care system that can cater for everyone. And always prepare for the worst and try to, I think, try to pretty much imitate what we’ve been doing here when it [comes] to social distancing. …
Even if it could be a little bit controversial, don’t let the public health of a whole country depend on people’s opinions or the layperson talking and thinking what’s best. I think there must be one voice, one strong voice aided by local authorities to lead the people in [these] difficult circumstances.
Del Guidice: Well, Aura, thank you so much for joining us on The Daily Signal Podcast. It’s been really great to have you.
Latorre: Thank you, guys. Thank you. It’s been great talking about this. Keep safe.