In Sickness and in Health

Families feel the strain of the lockdown in northern Italy

According to the World Health Organisation, over four thousand Italians have died of the coronavirus, which the WHO declared a pandemic on 11 March. mirko cecchi
01 April, 2020

On the evening of 12 March, 46-year-old Wilma Sangalang Naguit was returning home from work. She was waiting for the subway not far from Milan Central Station, wearing a mask to protect herself from a possible COVID-19 infection, when a man approached her to ask for alms. Wilma asked him to keep his distance, but the man spat on her. “He didn’t catch me, but I was very scared,” Wilma told me. “There was nobody else around, I felt like crying. When I got home I took off my clothes and took a shower.”

Wilma works as a domestic employee, but after this experience she took a week off from work and decided not to leave the house anymore. So did her husband Benedict, who works in a pastry laboratory.

Wilma and Benedict have two sons, aged 18 and four. Since the government closed schools on 24 February in some areas, the older boy stayed at home with the little one while Wilma and Benedict were at work. Since 11 March, the alarm level for COVID-19 has risen; bars and restaurants have been closed and people have been strongly advised to stay at home. “We don’t even go to the courtyard anymore,” Wilma told me. “We live on the eighth floor and we can’t know who took the elevator before us.” Wilma was also worried about her sister Irene, employed in an ophthalmologist’s house, where she takes care of the woman’s daughters and mother. “She continues to go to work and brings her three-year-old daughter along,” she said. “She told me she can’t afford to lose her job, but I tell her that money can’t do anything if she or her baby get sick.”

By 24 March, Italy had nearly sixty thousand COVID-19 cases, second only to China. According to statistics compiled by the World Health Organisation, over five thousand Italians had died of the coronavirus, which the WHO declared a pandemic on 11 March. Although the elderly are most at risk, the management of children represents one of the most serious collateral concerns for many Italian families. In cases where a worker is at home, they have to also take care of the children.