GUARDAMIGLIO, ITALY - FEBRUARY 24: An Italian Cara
An Italian Carabinieri officer, wearing a respiratory mask, talks to a driver at a road block on February 24, 2020 in Guardamiglio, south-west Milan, Italy. Guardamiglio is a town nearby one of the ten small towns placed under lockdown after coronavirus sparked infections throughout the Lombardy region. Italy is the last country to be hit hard by the virus with 6 dead and more than 229 infected as of today. The spread marks Europeâ??s biggest outbreak, prompting Italian Government to issue draconian safety measures. (Photo by Emanuele Cremaschi/Getty Images)
  • Italy began easing its coronavirus restrictions on May 4.
  • Before that, the country had been carrying out one of the world's strictest lockdowns, and the country is still urging people to follow social distancing.
  • Business Insider talked to a handful of people throughout Italy about how they had been navigating the lockdown and what they were doing with some of their new freedom.
  • For more articles, go to www.BusinessInsider.co.za

People living across Italy, from the northern hills to the shores of the south, have faced some of the strictest forms of lockdown following an explosion of coronavirus cases in early March.

Both children and the elderly were forbidden from leaving homes in many regions, with all nonessential travel prohibited for well over 45 days.

The country began easing restrictions May 4, but Italians are still coming to terms with their experience in what had been Europe's longest lockdown.

Emptiness in Rome

Valeria Grilli, a 67-year-old architect, lost her husband just a couple of months before Rome's coronavirus lockdown. At a time when many families were forced to hunker down together, she was living alone in her apartment in the city center. But she refuses to feel lonely or stop working.

"I'm still very active!" she says, adding that she has been embracing technology with calls from friends over WhatsApp and Skype.

Still, she won't jump on the baking bandwagon for the sake of it.

"I am definitely not baking, but I do have a Zoom group with friends in London and Athens where we exchange views or even recipes," she says. "It's impossible to find yeast in all of Rome!"

With Rome so reliant on tourism, she fears many of the city's businesses "may never reopen." The location of a four-bedroom apartment she owns just five minutes away from Rome's Forum is no longer enough to win over renters. Three students have given up their rooms since the lockdown began to move back home.

"It's a confusing time," she says.

"I'm quite rational, I get up the usual time, I eat at the right time. Just like before. But many people sleep until noon and eat at 4 p.m. Because life has no rules in this time. Who cares about rules!"

She thinks that Southern Italy should not have been as strict in its lockdown as the northern region of Lombardy and that a more tailored approach at a regional level was needed. She's concerned the heavy concentration of coronavirus cases in Northern Italy has caused divisions in public sentiment. Italy's south is known for precarious jobs often undertaken by unauthorised migrants, many of whom began to face even more uncertainty under lockdown.

"There's always been a difference between Milan and Rome," she says. "We are back to this difference."

If Grilli refuses to feel lonely, so too does she refuse to feel old. The coronavirus to her seems incompatible with Italy's idea of what constitutes "old." Because age has been identified as a coronavirus risk factor, those older than 60 face constant reminders that they are now considered elderly.

About 23% of Italy's population is over 65, the largest proportion in the European Union.

"You have to remember in Italy, people generally speaking retire at 67," she says. "We don't understand why people of 60 year must be considered old and can't go out. It drives me crazy. I am perfectly fit."

Grilli toasted the lifting of Italy's restrictions drinking coffee with her neighbours in the street. She's even managed to leave Rome and has taken time out in a farm soaking up as much greenery as she can.

Smelling the coffee in Veneto

Marianna Pop lives in Veneto, a region that has recorded the fourth-most coronavirus cases in Italy. Just 37 miles away from Venice, she saw orders at her coffee shop dry up despite its remaining open. With no tourists, the only customers now are Italians, and only at a stretch.

"We have the majority of Italy's businesses in this district alone, and it's the richest part - all the factories are here," she says.

Her lockdown started March 12. She says locals became "sick and tired." The mood is lifting as restrictions have eased, with a touch more coffee and the chance to see her family on the other side of town.

The 26-year-old still misses the cinema, though. Netflix no longer cuts it. She often worries about businesses going bust. Her family owns a restaurant that she says could well be the "very last to open."

"The situation is hard because we don't have any information on what will happen," she says. "Will people feel safe again to go to a bar or restaurant?"

Just like Grilli in Rome, Pop has noticed a dearth of yeast in lockdown.

She says she previously lived a "rushed lifestyle" in London and is glad she didn't need to live under lockdown in such a cramped, populous city. But Italy could change in ways unforeseen before the pandemic.

"Culturally Italy will be a little different, but the process will be slow," she says. "We'll understand that not everything we did was the best way to do it. Companies will understand that remote working can be helpful for employees. Grandparents have started using smartphones to call and see their families, so an acceptance of technology will be the new future. This process will start now. In England, it's something that already has happened."

Separated from loved ones in Tuscany

Irene Borelli, 34, works from home with her boyfriend. Luckily, their house is spacious enough on the outskirts of Pisa in the region of Tuscany. She too has witnessed a quiet tech revolution underway in Italy, though, she said, "Amazon seems to be working just fine at this moment!"

Five thousand people live in her suburban town, a common theme in Italy's spread of smaller, gentler living.

But she misses the high-intensity social interaction of going to the gym and rock climbing in the mountains.

"I miss having beers and my friends," she said. "Or having dinner! My parents live in Milan - I miss them a lot. I get worried about them, and when you have family in the center of the whole pandemic, it can make you anxious."

"They're old and stubborn, and my mum has early dementia," she added. "My dad kept going out every day."

Unproductive down south

A passerby with an empty shopping cart on March 21 in the southern city of Catania, Italy.
Fabrizio Villa/Getty Images
Down by Italy's southern "heel" in Puglia, sunshine contradicts the mood. Before restrictions eased on May 4, Nicola Novielli; his wife, Daniela; and their two children had been more or less crammed indoors since March 9. Restrictions on children going outside have caused the two toddlers to feel as if they're in "prison," Nicola said, and because of their young age, they are unable to express the effects lockdown has had on them.

"They don't understand what's going on, and they can't express themselves," he said. "But I can see they're stressed, and it's having an impact. Children too are changing their habits."

The family of four more recently has been able to enjoy the freedom of playing games outside together. Uncertainty remains, however, about Daniela's accessory shop, which has been closed for a month and a half. With rent and taxes still to pay, they don't know how they'll reopen.

"The government helped with 600 euros after a month and a half!" Nicola said. "We have covered 60% of rent, but it's not cash. We need liquidity now."

Nicola, a 38-year-old statistician, suggests productivity at home is "at 30%." What's certain is that just like his counterparts all over Italy, his family can't avoid cooking and baking.

"We've taken on 4 kilos from eating," he says, "but it's only natural."

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