Italians find ‘a moment of joy’ amid coronavirus anxiety
ROME - It started with the national anthem. Then came the piano chords, trumpet blasts, violin serenades and even the clanging of pots and pans — all of it spilling from people’s homes, out of windows and from balconies, and rippling across rooftops.
Finally, on Saturday afternoon, a nationwide round of applause broke out for the doctors on the medical front lines fighting the spread of Europe’s worst coronavirus outbreak.
“It was from our hearts, to say thanks and show that we can get past this,” said Emma Santachiara, 73, who came out onto the terrace of her apartment in the Monteverde section of Rome to clap with her granddaughters.
Italians remain essentially under house arrest as the nation, the European front in the global fight against the coronavirus, has ordered extraordinary restrictions on their movement to prevent contagions.
As of Saturday, the virus had infected more than 21,000 Italians and left more than 1,400 dead, according to national officials — the worst toll reported anywhere outside of China. Italy has closed all of its schools, bars and restaurants and restricted movement for anything other than work, health or the procurement of essentials.
But the cacophony erupting over the streets, from people stuck in their homes, reflects the spirit, resilience and humor of a nation facing its worst national emergency since World War II.
Like any national crisis, the virus has exposed the flaws of those countries it has struck the hardest, whether it be the reflex for secrecy in China, the downplaying of the crisis in Iran or the initial confusion and fragmentation in the Italian response.
But to the extent that this is a virus that tries people’s souls, it has also demonstrated the strengths of those national characters.
In China, patriotic truck drivers risked infection to bring desperately needed food to the people of Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. In Iran, videos show doctors in full scrubs and masks dancing to keep spirits up.
And in Italy, the gestures of gratitude and music ring out above the country’s vacated streets, while social media feeds fill with encouraging, sentimental and humorous web videos.
On Friday evening, at the exact hour that health officials normally update the daily numbers of the country’s increasing infected and dead, Italians from the southern islands to the Alps sang the national anthem and played instruments.
Santachiara, in Rome, was among them.
“It’s not like we’re maestros,” she said, but “it’s a moment of joy in this moment of anxiety.”
On the web, one man showed off his new invention, a vest of horizontal cardboard spokes that maintained a 1-meter distance from anyone around him.
“Cool,” said the man, looking like the center of a propeller. “I’m going to work.”
Other irreverent posts showed a parrot smashing its beak into a mirror above a “fourth day of quarantine” caption and a father extolling how happy he was to be home as his bickering children drowned out his voice. In another, a teenager spritzed on some perfume for a walk to the kitchen.
But while Italians sought to lift the national mood, there was no doubt it was still a heavy one.