Pietro is an academic friend in Rome. He lives in a flat and has been in lockdown for a week. He tells me he is slowly going crazy because his bored young children are running wild inside his flat and he cannot get time to concentrate on his work which he is trying to do remotely. I live outside Rome and can see sheep, pine trees, and ruins from my study window. I am slightly unnerved by the silence and stillness of the landscape under a blue sky. No noisy bars, rude hand gestures between motorists, and there are people sitting in the sunshine. Italy is not Italy any more at present. In my neighbourhood, dog sharing is the thing. Prime Minister Conte’s rules allow people to leave home to go to vital necessity shops such supermarkets, chemists, green grocers, banks, petrol stations, pet shops and to walk your dog. So people are borrowing dogs to go for walks to evade what is undoubtedly a big burden of the covid story: being locked up.
Some of you who read this may never experience lockdown, as a story to talk about at your future dinner parties, but if you will, mark my words: it’s no joke.
I am in a privileged position. We live in a large house with a garden and our children are of high school age, so they are old enough (I am told) to understand that “no” means “no.” But that is where it ends. On one floor, I have my daughter attending a grammar lesson on Skype, next to my study her brother is learning German pronunciation aloud. This is unusual, as before covid they were at school until afternoon. In the evening they watch Netflix on their phones and disappear into their chaotic bedrooms. My wife is busying herself on the cactus in the front garden and our German shepherd is curled asleep exhausted in her bed. Too many cycle rides up steep gradients and too many walkies around the block.
But nevertheless, I am feeling the bite, just like Pietro. I have enough interesting work to sink a battleship or fill a library and I have all my favourite books and movies around me, but the lack of freedom and the change in routine is very hard to adjust to.
I cannot go out without a written self-justification (autocertificazione). This is an unimaginable change from fast, care free Italy within the space of a few days. My wife (who is British) is bemoaning the loss of her morning caffè with her chattering Italian friends. My daughter is climbing the walls from withdrawal of heavy water polo training. My son misses his friends. My grown up daughter’s business is going belly up because her restaurant is closed. I miss my gym weight training and the interaction with other people.
Heed my words, those of you can: devote more attention to the psychological aspects of lockdown. Have a plan, whether you live alone or with other members of your family. Start thinking about how you are going to cope when it comes your way. Family dynamics may never be the same again, and dogs will have higher expectations from now on.
But what’s the biggest burden? Dying, of course.
Tom Jefferson is an an epidemiologist and Cochrane researcher, based in Rome, Italy.
Competing interests: Please see full statement here