2007 - 2020

Going Viral – What Can Scotland Learn from Italy and the Coronavirus?

As Scotland considers the actions it might take in the event of a coronavirus infection it might be instructive to follow events in Italy where the Government has quarantined the city of Venice and eleven small towns near Milan. The Scottish equivalent might be the cordoning off of the entire centre of Edinburgh and many of the suburban townships around Glasgow? Damian Killeen reports from Italy.

A local radio station in Taranto in the South of Italy, called ironically in dialect the equivalent of ‘Yob Radio’, the voice of the people, recently broadcast a funny/serious item complaining about contradictory public information regarding the progress of the coronavirus and suggesting that the reason Taranto had not been affected was because the virus had taken one look at the pollution emanating from the city’s steel works, oil refinery and cement factory and had decided that easier meat was to be had in the softer, northern centres of Lombardy and Veneto. This argument collapsed with the first case of infection in the region this morning, involving a man who had returned home after a visit to one of the small towns near Milan currently at the heart of the national crisis. The Regional Governor of Taranto has already authorised the closure of all schools and further actions are on the way.

As Scotland considers the actions it might take in the event of an infection (400+ tests and no positives so far) it might be instructive to follow events in Italy where the Government has quarantined the city of Venice and eleven small towns near Milan. The Scottish equivalent might be the cordoning off of the entire City of Edinburgh and many of the suburban townships around Glasgow. The army and police are on the borders, no one enters or leaves for two weeks at least and essential supplies are being placed on the road by deliverers to be collected separately by residents under close supervision. The Lidl store in Cordogno, at the epicentre of the epidemic, remains open but, with queues stretching down the street, shopping is no longer a convenience. Schools and other public amenities are closed; city metros and other public transport are empty of passengers and residents are staying at home to reduce contact with others as much as possible.

Imagine the stresses that such a situation would induce if it were to paralyse the Central Belt and place thousands of people effectively under curfew. Venice is reeling under the combined effect of the recent floods and, now, the virus and the City of Milan is advertising on national tv that it is still open for business, though the closures of Universities and the closure of many tourist centres might belie this claim. Would the Scottish Government have the resilience to manage the situation as forcefully as Italy’s has? Would Boris bestir himself to offer any help or would he close the Scottish-English border as some of Italy’s neighbours have begun to do?

Venice lost its Carnivale this year because of the virus but, two days before the Taranto infection, the Carnivale in nearby Massafra, a major event in the South of Italy, went ahead. There was no worry abut contagion here, as vast throngs filled the streets and huge chariots bearing building high, smoke emitting, sound blaring and highly articulated figures, mythical and reality based were pulled through the streets by tractors and were accompanied by dancing, singing crowds dressed as anything from zombie brides and bearded ladies to scary clowns and, of course, local and national politicians. Black humour was present in the numbers of people dressed in bio hazard suits and surgical masks, as well as several 16th and 17th century pox doctors and aristocratic swells with veils over their moths and noses to protect them from the pestilence that is currently threatening the country.

The ‘British’ contribution was a gigantic collection of sterotypes and clichés with the Queen (i.e. Freddie Mercury) in the centre surrounded by Lions Rampant and other senior and junior royals cavorting down Carnaby Street to the sound of ‘Heroes’. One joke going the rounds is that Prince Charles says to his mother, ‘Mummy, I do hope I don’t catch the virus’. And the Queen (i.e. Elizabeth 2nd ) says ‘Don’t worry dear, there’s not much chance of you catching a ‘corona’ any time soon’. Geddit !!. As the parade ended up in the city square for a midnight concert, my friends decided it was time to find something to eat, though virtually every business in town was closed, ‘for Carnivale’. An hour later, after much misdirection we found somewhere serving sweet or savoury crepes. Crepes; that’s pancakes. And it’s Pancake Tuesday back in Blighty. ‘How British is that?’ I whispered to myself.

I am planning to be back in Scotland in a few weeks’ time but this will involve changing flights in Milan. Will this count as ‘returning from the north of Italy’, or will the whole of Italy have become a red zone before I attempt to fly and will I have to go into voluntary home quarantine or involuntary hospitalisation for the entire time I intend to be in Scotland? Might I become the suspected vector of the pandemic that finally grips Scotland? Hopefully this will all be resolved before I return to the warm embrace of Border Security at Edinburgh Airport. My Italian colleague worries about these things and, also, whether or not he will be allowed into and, eventually, out of Scotland because of Brexit. These are difficult times. Viruses know no borders but, unfortunately, countries do and I have finally decided to exploit my adoption history and to apply for the Irish registration and passport to which I am entitled. Unless Scottish Independence and a Scottish/European passport happen soon, it is the only way I know to retain both my Scottish and European identities and the lifestyle of Italy and, hopefully, to keep one step ahead of the virus.

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  1. Wul says:

    Hearing on “Any Answers” on BBC Radio 4 this afternoon that passengers on flights retuning from Milan, into Heathrow, were able to walk off and into the airport and London with no health screening or monitoring of any kind.

    The caller (its a phone-in) noted the contrast with far-eastern airports where thermal cameras and temperature sensors were monitoring every passenger for fever/raised temperature.

    In good old Blighty we don’t really value the general population much and tend to put their interests fairly low on any priority list.
    This is because, unlike many other countries, our country isn’t really “for us”. Its just a place where the common man gets to work, rent a house, be a “consumer” and have his labour exploited by his “betters”. We never had a revolution here, and so we never really won our country back from the toffs.

    We are a bit like the domestic animals kept on the ground floor of the hovel in olden days; valued for the warmth we give off (that travels upwards to provide comfort for our owners) and our flesh, but ultimately just low-maintenance property.

    We might see some action if the high heid yins feel their interests are becoming seriously threatened. But then again, they can just fuck off somewhere nice and tax-free, if things here get too unpleasant.

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