My friend, N, lives in Bologna, in northern Italy, which was one of the country’s Covid hotspots. During those first terrifying spring months, I watched Italy’s encounter with the virus through N’s Twitter feed: the regimented lockdown; the parks with locked gates; the Italian newspaper stories I couldn’t understand yet knew described hospitals buckling with death.
More recently, Italy has lifted lockdown measures and on Twitter I see N sitting on terraces having dinner, walking around the city, posting videos of children playing with a dog on the street. Life is gradually taking on a familiar shape again, against a backdrop of yellow light and terracotta.
I have also seen the country’s insistence on, and acceptance of, face masks. At the end of May, N tweeted: “Masks ubiquitous. Handed out free by council or available everywhere in boxes, like tissues”. If you want to order a drink at a bar, you need a mask. If you want to use the loos in a restaurant, you need a mask, if you want to go to the shops or get a haircut, you need a mask. In Italy, masks are obligatory inside, and strongly encouraged outside. In Spain and France wearing masks in public are mandatory. And as all these European countries have come out of lockdown, infection rates have stayed down.
You might believe you are immune to Covid and the impact of lockdown, but know thousands aren’t. Please, wear a mask.
When I leave my house in south east London, no one is wearing a mask. This is not an exaggeration. On several occasions, I have been to my local grocery store and butchers and I am the only person wearing a face mask – including the staff. When I took the train to London Bridge after the UK government announced masks are mandatory on public transport, one man, on boarding the train, took off his mask in order to drink a can of beer. A woman put on her mask as the train pulled into the station to avoid the penalty fine for not wearing one.