Canadian couple describes life under Italian COVID-19 emergency measures

Andrea Spallanzani describes shopping in Modena during strict emergency measures imposed by the Italian government to slow the spread of COVID-19: "You have to stay one metre away from everybody else." (Submitted)

When Rick Orford and his husband Andrea Spallanzani go out to buy groceries or visit Spallanzani's elderly parents, they first download a declaration form from a government website, write down the purpose of their trip, and sign it.

When they go out, they have to carry the declaration with them: a police officer could stop them and ask to see the documentation.

It's part of a suite of extraordinary measures taken by the Italian government to attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19, an illness that has swept across the world after first appearing in China in December 2019.

Italy has been one of the hardest hit countries, with 17,660 positive cases and 1,266 deaths as of Friday, March 13.

Orfordis from Vancouver, but he and Spallanzani moved to Modena, Italy to be close to Spallanzani's elderly parents. Modena is not in one of the hardest-hit areas, but emergency measures were extended to the entire country on March 10.

Those measures include a ban on non-essential travel, asking everyone to stay home, closing schools and most shops and limiting restaurant hours.

Orford and Spallanzani said many people are still going to work, and residents are allowed to go out to shop for groceries and restaurants are open for food pick-up only, but city residents are taking social distance extremely seriously – making for a Twilight Zone atmosphere, Orford said.

If a store is small, only one person is allowed in at a time. "And you have to stay one metre away from everybody else, so when you go to the till, you have to really stretch your arm to give them the credit card," Spallanzani said.

Recently, when Orford and Spallanzani met a friend on the street, they kept three metres away, making for an odd scene in a country where it's common to embrace and kiss when friends meet.

Spallanzani said the hardest thing has been trying to get his 77-year-old mother to realize she can't go out and socialize with friends and family as much as she's used to.

"My mom is a very active person, she likes to go to for walks, see my cousin's kids, go grocery shopping, play cards, so she's still wrapping her head around the idea that she's not able to do this stuff anymore," he said.

But the couple have been keeping busy updating their travel blog, painting their apartment, taking walks in the park (still allowed as long as people aren't meeting in large groups), and even giving each other haircuts – because barber shops are closed.

As Canadians adapt to some of the same measures, Orford and Spallanzani had some advice.

"There's no need to panic," Spallanzani said. "Get some extra non-perishable items at home – not a lot, just for a couple of days. Stores are very well-stocked. Get a couple of month's supply of medication."