It’s been a month now since it began. The national quarantine. The lockdown.
What does it mean? In Italy it means the only reason you can leave your home, besides an emergency, is to get food or go to the pharmacy. If you have a dog you can take it for a walk, but you must stay within 200 metres of your house.
If you’re an athlete, it means doing all your training in your living room and if, like me, you live alone, it means you haven’t met anyone for a month.
It’s weird. It’s sad.
They often say on the news that we’re in a war, but I don’t like that description. In a war, you have bombs dropping over your head, but I get why they say it now: this is the first time in most of our lives that we’ve had our freedom restricted.
I live in Monza, a city of about 120,000 people just north of Milan. It’s in Lombardia, the region of Italy that’s had the most deaths, where almost 10,000 people have died with Covid-19.
I moved here three months ago to prepare for the Olympics with a new coach and my family is 300 kilometres away. My boyfriend also lives in another city, so I won’t see any of them again until the lockdown is lifted.
Monza is not far from Bergamo and Brescia, two of the worst-affected cities, where hospitals are completely overwhelmed and where those who die don’t even get a funeral. You watch those images on television of the coffins being removed and it shocks you.
Even if you, personally, don’t know anyone who lost their life, it hits you that it could be somebody you know next: people who are supposed to live.
If you do have to go out on the streets, it feels scary. You feel people are watching you, as if you’re not allowed to be there. It makes you anxious and sad, so very sad.
We Italians, we live on the streets. It's part of our culture.
In the evenings we go out with friends, have pizza in the local squares and, at this time of year, the bars and restaurants are usually full. But right now Monza is a ghost town. Everywhere is.
I don’t know anybody who contracted the coronavirus, but the problem here is they can’t keep up with testing so it's hard to know for sure. A friend’s mother had all the symptoms but she couldn’t get tested, and that’s a big issue. They can collect the samples but there aren’t enough laboratories and equipment to do the tests.
Over the past week, though, we finally saw some light on the horizon. The death rate is starting to drop. We hope things will continue to improve, but we just don’t know. All we can do is follow the rules and wait.
How do I pass the time? In the morning I do exercises in my apartment and in the afternoons I study – I joke with friends that it took the coronavirus for me to finally get my degree. I’m in my third year of a degree in food science and technologies and I’ve never studied so much in my life.
I’ve also never spent so much time on Skype. It’s funny: all these people you haven’t met in 10 years, popping up and saying, ‘let’s catch up on a video call!’
Until a couple of weeks ago, athletes preparing for the Olympics still had permission to use a local track and that was a saviour. I’d go there with my coach, respect all the rules of hygiene and social distancing, then we’d keep training with Tokyo in mind. But once the Olympics were postponed, that facility was taken away.
Now, like many around the world, we can train only at home.
My apartment is too small to do proper training so I just do general conditioning like abdominal exercises. To train for the high jump you need space to run and do drills, but when the lockdown started we had some issues with runners who continued on as normal. Other people would see them and say, ‘why can they go and we need to be home?’ I might want to go out on the street to do drills, but I know what they’d say: ‘It’s because of you we’re not getting better!’
Over the past two weeks, our whole year has changed. First there was the Olympic postponement, then the decision that all qualification is now suspended until December.
I had mixed feelings when I heard the news. The emotional part of me was clinging to the hope of competitions at the end of the summer to secure Olympic qualification and when they announced that they wouldn’t count I was like, ‘why am I training?’
But the rational part of me knows it was the right decision because we have no doping controls during this period and, when you look at the big picture, we still have one more year to get the standard. It’s plenty of time.
We’re lucky that for now, the European Championships are still on the schedule in late August. It’s a light that keeps us motivated. The Olympics are also there, one year down the line, and we have time now to go back to basics, to become even better athletes in 2021.
There are other positives in all of this. It made me see things differently, to appreciate what’s around me.
Normally everyone is so focused on their own life – what you’re working for, your family, your friends – but now I also spend time watching what’s around me.
I see the importance of things that connect people. Although I don’t believe in God, I've learned to see the the value of religion in Italy: people need a community they can share the pain, the experiences and the happy moments with. But it can be any other kind of modern religion like sport, music, friends singing together, or just playing a game on Zoom.
Where I live, there are guys who play guitar every evening at 6pm and it makes everyone in the neighbourhood feel part of something.
Italians love mixing with those around them and it's hurting everyone that we can't do that right now, but this crisis has brought out a different and very powerful sense of community. We may be kept apart, but for the first time in my life, I feel we are all connected.