It’s been weeks since Italy declared a nationwide lockdown in response to the coronavirus pandemic, and tensions are starting to rise.
“We don’t have a single euro left. We won’t last another week like this,” one resident of Palermo, in Sicily, said in a video that has circulated online in recent days, warning that “revolution will break out” if the government fails to provide more relief.
“I can’t take it anymore. I’m about to collapse. They’re starving us,” said a shopkeeper in the southern city of Bari.
In another video, a group of people shouted at police officers stationed outside a closed bank in the city.
“We don’t have any more food or money. My store has been closed for 20 days now. How am I supposed to live?” a man said.
“Please, come home with me and see for yourself. I have nothing left. I need something to eat,” said a woman.
Particularly in Italy’s poorer southern regions, there is evidence that the initial solidarity that Italians displayed in response to the coronavirus outbreak appears to be fading, as residents chafe at the ongoing restrictions on daily life. Scenes of Italians singing from their balconies have given way to frustration and anger.
Last week, a man in Naples sparked a confrontation between customers and staff at a grocery store when he tried to obtain a few essential items — pasta, tomatoes, bread, oil — but was unable to pay. “This man has no money to pay, he can’t eat, he didn’t buy any champagne or wine, he bought the basics,” an onlooker argued with staff members.
Police were also called to a Lidl supermarket in Palermo last week when a group of about 20 families loaded shopping carts with food and attempted to leave without paying.
Two weeks ago, the Italian government unveiled a 25 billion-euro stimulus package, which included provisions to help workers facing temporary layoffs. But the benefits leave out the large number of Italians who work in the country’s vast informal economy, and residents and public officials say more needs to be done.
“We need to act fast, more than fast,” Palermo Mayor Leoluca Orlando told the La Stampa newspaper, according to Bloomberg. “Distress could turn into violence.”
This week, the Italian government said the country’s lockdown would be extended “at least” until Easter, and possibly longer. On Monday, the death toll in Italy rose by 812 to 11,591 — a total that is higher than any other country in the world. The total number of infections in the country stands at 101,739, although the rate of new infections appeared to be slowing.
Franco Locatelli, the head of Italy’s supreme health council, told HuffPost Italy that he recognised the sacrifices people are making for the sake of public health and that the restrictions are working to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
“We are seeing the results of the measures taken, we are moving forward in this direction,” Locatelli said.
“We must send a message of encouragement — all the more because people are willing to make sacrifices if they see and understand the underlying rationale.”
“The lives of all of us are at stake here,” Locatelli said.
Government officials and public health authorities across Europe have signalled in recent days that the restrictions placed on social and economic activity will likely need to remain in place for weeks or months. Social distancing is necessary to curtail the spread of the coronavirus, officials say, and lifting the measures too soon could allow the virus to surge back.
But the situation in Italy suggests that another emerging front in the battle against the coronavirus will be the struggle to maintain public morale and social order.
In Japan, a sharp increase in coronavirus cases has raised concerns that people are no longer taking official guidelines seriously. “There is a need for everyone to share a sense of urgency,” Satoshi Hori, a professor at Juntendo University and an expert on infection control, told the Financial Times. “But people are becoming tired of exercising restraint.”
Enforcing the restrictions without alienating the public can be a tricky balancing act. In the United Kingdom, police have been criticised for using drones and other tactics to enforce the country’s lockdown measures, with one former Supreme Court justice telling the BBC this week that the heavy-handed response in some areas risked turning the country into a “police state.”
On Tuesday, The Guardian reported that police in the United Kingdom have been warned against “overreach.” According to the paper, senior police chiefs are concerned about “not turning communities against us.”
“We’re not going to enforce our way out of this problem,” one senior police official told the BBC.
With reporting from HuffPost Italy.