Martina Sergi, 29, is an Italian yogi and author who teaches yoga online, at retreats, and at international yoga festivals. Since March 9, Martina has been living under lockdown in Milan. Italy was the first European country to impose a national lockdown as a result of the COVID-19 crisis, but now Spain, France, and the Netherlands have also ordered restrictions on their citizens' daily movement. In the UK, the government are currently advising people to socially distance themselves as much as possible, and for the vulnerable, pregnant and elderly to take extra precautions. Here, Martina shares her experience of life under a lockdown.
I live near the city center of Milan, where as of March 15th, there were 1,750 cases of COVID-19. Italy is one of the epicenters of the pandemic, with over 20,000 cases across the country. We have one of the highest COVID-19 death rates in the world not because we have poor healthcare, but because there are too many cases for the hospitals to handle. Consider that most of the people who die are over 70, and in Italy, we have a high percentage of elderly citizens. On March 9th, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte ordered a nationwide lockdown, requiring people to stay home and avoid nonessential travel.
When I return home from the supermarket, I leave my shoes outside. I wear the same pair of sneakers every time I go out. After opening the door to my apartment, I clean my hands, keys, and phone with alcohol, then remove my plastic gloves and face mask. I throw the gloves away, but I use each mask more than once because there’s a shortage.
Even though there has been some discussion about whether masks are necessary, most Italians wear masks outside. After I take off the gloves, I wash my hands. If my dog, Dobby, and I are returning from a walk, I even clean his paws.
Every time I go outside or bring something new into the apartment, I think of places where the novel coronavirus could be hiding. It’s like a job.
We only had about two days to prepare for the lockdown, but we knew things were changing even before it was announced. Two weeks ago, my boyfriend Danilo received a message from his company instructing him to work from home, like many other people in office jobs.
On Saturday, March 7th, we started reading about a possible lockdown in the newspapers, and then the lockdown started that following Monday. The COVID-19 numbers were increasing so quickly, it was the only thing the government could do to try to contain the spread.
Aside from grocery runs and dog walks, we haven't left our apartment in over a week. I think our cat, Lepi, is happy about it, because he's a very cuddly cat who likes to have us around.
Danilo and I still go outside, but only when we need to. Whenever you go outside, you need to carry a piece of paper called a “self certification for traveling and commute”, so if the police stop you, you can prove you have a reason for being outside. You fill out a form online and print it out. That reason can be either buying food or medicine, walking your dog, or going to work, if you have a job that requires your physical presence.
I am not sure what happens if you don't have the form with you, but if you are outside without a good reason, you can be fined up to €206 [about £187], and go to jail for up to three months.
Pharmacies and supermarkets are the only places allowed to be open to the public. Some companies are still open but they need to take precautions, and some restaurants are still delivering food. When you go to the grocery store, they only allow a certain number of people inside at a time, because you need to stay at least one meter away [3.3 feet] from the other shoppers at all times. I try to stay even further away.
So you go, you get in line outside the store, and you keep your distance while waiting. I always wear a mask and gloves. Not everyone uses gloves, but since Danilo is diabetic, we’re very concerned about him catching the coronavirus (some pre-existing medical conditions, like diabetes, can make people more susceptible to complications if they develop COVID-19).
I try to go shopping once a week, and buy everything we’ll need so I don’t need to go back. Before the pandemic started, I would go shopping every two days and buy less, but to be a good citizen right now, it’s important to go less frequently.
Danilo doesn’t go to the grocery store because he’s at a high risk for complications from COVID-19. Instead, he tries to go outside at least once a day to walk Dobby. Usually, they go later in the evening, when there are even less people outside.
I’m not scared when I go outside because I know I’m careful. I’m mostly scared of other things, like when this is going to end. It’s okay to do this for a month, but what if this lasts for three months? How long is it going to be?
A few days ago, the parks were still open, but now the gates are closed because people were going there to hang out. I was reading that because so many people aren’t following the rules, the government is considering introducing even more restrictions, like a possible curfew. Because people aren't following the rules, I’ve been posting on my Instagram Stories to please stay home and please respect the rules. If not everyone is doing what they’re supposed to do, this is going to last longer.
None of my family or friends have COVID-19, but I’m worried for high-risk people like my boyfriend and my father, who is 75. One of my friends is a nurse at one of the largest hospitals in Milan, where they’re doing intensive care on the coronavirus patients. She’s the only person I know who works in the hospitals, so she tells me what she sees. She has to be very careful – health care workers are exposed to the virus the most of anyone. Because of that, she took the precaution three weeks back to stop seeing all of her friends in person. So I’ve been seeing her on FaceTime.
Under the lockdown, people are connecting online more than ever, and not in a fake way. Instead of “making connections,” it’s more like finding connection, because the internet is the only way you can stay in touch right now. It’s nice to see how people are helping each other and supporting each other, which I hope will continue after the coronavirus situation quiets down.
In order to maintain a sense of normalcy, I’m still working out and doing yoga every day, except I do it at home. I created a little home gym using weights, resistance bands, a bar for pull-ups, TRX and my yoga mat. My personal trainer still tells me which exercises to do over FaceTime, and sometimes I'll send him videos of me doing the exercises so he can check that I'm doing them correctly. Usually, the workouts are circuit training or weight training for 45 minutes.
Not everyone knows how to do yoga at home without an instructor, so my friends and I are offering free yoga classes over YouTube Live. Last week, 1,000 people tuned in, and even though I can’t actually see everyone like in a studio, the connections are powerful. I’m doing a lot of live chats on Instagram, and looking for new ways to engage my online community. A lot of people are sending me questions about the lockdown, like asking whether we have enough toilet paper (we do!).
It’s a way to keep my mind busy. I can’t just do nothing—it will make me crazy! Lots of people are writing to me saying they are cleaning their houses, reading books they never read before, taking care of their body and cooking, things like that. People are using this free time to do something useful, which is good. I know other people are offering free classes online, and some places are offering free ebook downloads, so there are lots of people who are trying to help.
I think Italians are very good at creating beauty and staying connected in these situations. As you’ve probably seen online, we’re doing a lot of flash mobs from our apartments. Yesterday, at noon, there was a message going around social media to open your window or go out on your balcony and clap for all of the doctors and nurses working for us, to say thank you. People did it all over Italy. We clapped for one minute, all together. A few days ago at 6 PM, we sang the National Anthem. On Sunday at 9 PM, everyone switched off their lights, and went to their windows or terraces with a lighter or phone flashlight.
For a minute, all of these lights felt like a sign of hope. I think it’s important during times of crisis that somehow you feel connected as a population, so I really love that about my country. We’re trying to stay strong.
The information in this story is accurate as of the publication date. While we are attempting to keep our content as up-to-date as possible, the situation surrounding the coronavirus pandemic continues to develop rapidly, so it's possible that some information and recommendations may have changed since publishing. For any concerns and latest advice, visit the World Health Organisation. If you're in the UK, the National Health Service can also provide useful information and support, while US users can contact the Center for Disease Control and Prevention.
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