Coronavirus: Life in Rome under lockdown
Italy has introduced strict measures in a bid to tackle the coronavirus crisis gripping the country, including in the capital Rome. But what is life in lockdown like?
Rome in the springtime. One of the world’s most romantic settings.
Normally the departure gate at London’s Heathrow airport for a flight to the Italian capital would be a mix of human emotions: couples heading for a romantic break, families returning to see loved ones and business people anxiously waiting to board so work can be done.
Not so on the morning in early March when I waited to board my flight to cover the Italian coronavirus outbreak. It would be my first time in the Italian capital and the mood on the sparsely filled flight was tense, anxious and fearful.
This was no Roman holiday. A girl with dark hair who was sitting near me on the plane said she was “rushing home to be with her family before Italy shut down completely and she was stuck in the UK”.
When I stepped off the plane into the warm Roman sunshine I was hit by a cold blast of fear. I noticed people were reluctant to make eye contact and almost everyone was wearing a mask.
The airport staff spoke loudly, sounding muffled through their masks but making it clear that we were not to stand too close to one another. They were firm.
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Rome is a city where ancient history and religion fuse together with international tourism. Yet some of the world’s most famous tourist attractions – the Roman Colosseum, St Peter’s Square, the Pantheon – normally packed with thronging crowds were deserted.
Walking through its eerily quiet streets was haunting. Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte’s measures preventing people from moving around freely without good reasons were in full force. There was no escape from the silence apart from the hourly ringing of church bells around the city.
As we were filming in the fashion district, where opulent designer shops lined the streets, something extraordinary happened. People suddenly came out onto their balconies overlooking the shops and started clapping.
Their applause broke the silence, as they shouted down to me: “This is for unity and resilience. We agree with what is being done, to stay inside, because this is what we need to do to beat the virus.”