First-Hand Italian Lessons in Battling Covid-19. Are We Doing Enough? And How Does it Change Us?

Avatar for Vittorio Marino

I live in Amsterdam and Milano, and was in Milano when the Covid-19 pandemic occurred. Now, I am in lockdown. The life routine of my 60 milion fellow Italians changed within a couple of days and the whole economy is at the beginning of a challenging and critical stage. Covid-19 arrived in Italy only two weeks ago and since then we, as Italians, are forced to stay at home, to watch out from each other and against an invisible enemy.

The Italian Prime Minister Conte quickly escalated subsequent urgent actions to stop the virus contagion and avoid a health system burnout, despite that those actions can, on the other hand, badly influence the economy. Our health is of course our first interest. The elderly and weak need to be protected. Even if we sacrifice mobility and wealth. That’s what Conte said during his most recent address to the nation.

Milano Province is where most infected are

Positive cases are drastically increasing and at 6.20 o’clock pm on the 12th of March, almost 8,700 positive cases have been counted in the Milano province, out of a total of 12,900 cases in the whole of Italy.

So, the hinterland of Milano is actually the heart of this pandemic: the Italian economic capital has to stop, otherwise its hospitals won’t be able to manage all the people that need to be taken into intensive care (IC).

In fact, on the 7th of March the SIAARTI (Società Italiana di Anestesia Analgesia Rianimazione e Terapia Intensiva) released an official recommendation for healthcare personnel, involved in IC, to explicitly provide them a guideline in the eventuality that their resources are not enough to treat all patients at the same time: in that case they have to exclude the criteria of “first come, first served” to follow the criteria of “life expectation” by treating first the ones that have more chance to be saved.

We hope it will not come to this although some older patients are already sent away to other hospitals.

The Lesson for Europe (to be Learnt soon)

Italy is carefully watched by the rest of Europe and since the number of cases in surrounding countries is increasing following the same exponential curve as in Italy, several actions are taken by other European leaders:

  • France closed schools and universities
  • Belgium is closing schools, but makes them serve as kindergarten as kids are not dying of Covid-19
  • The Netherlands is locking down the Brabant province, and recommends people to work from home
  • Several countries like Czech, Denmark and Poland imposed strict travel bans
  • All countries ban meetings of 100+ people

There is no leader who would be happy to shutdown its economy. No one. Italy did it, like China, only after the SAARTI communication gave the above mentioned recommendation and, we did it as a last option, by previously taking “lighter” actions: those actions DID NOT work and we learnt it the hard way. Too late.

Europe shouldn’t make the same mistake by “waiting” until they have to completely shut down: they shouldn’t waste any time anymore and escalate much faster to the strictest quarantine.

What stays, what not in Milano

The government’s decree of the 11th of March rules that only shops that are providing goods or services of “primary necessity” are allowed to stay open by severely respecting certain daily hours opening conditions.

In practice, besides food shops, not everything is closed as we might have thought:

  • Supermarket and food shops are open
  • Tobacco shops are open (is this a primary need?)
  • Newsstand are open (is this still needed to inform people?)
  • PET shops are open
  • DIY shops are open
  • CE&IT shops are open
  • No restriction for online shops (of course not)
  • Enterprises are open but it’s strongly recommended to let employees work from home and to come to the office (or travel) only if it’s strictly necessary and unavoidable.

E-commerce makes crises more affordable

Can you imagine to be locked down in your house and not being able to order food or any other products online? That would be the real panic, not what we are facing now.

Nielsen (Nielsen Holdings plc (NYSE: NLSN) tracked growth by 81% in online sales during the first week of the Coronavirus alert in Italy (24th Feb – 1st March) compared to the same period of previous year and expansion by 82% for the week thereafter.

COOP and ESSELUNGA, two of the main player into the GDO Italian Industry, are offering delivery services to 65+ people, free of charge.

Unieuro one of the main Italian Retailer into the CE&IT Industry decided to close its +600 local shops, from the 14th of March, all over the country, to mitigate as much as possible the contagion risk. They focus on their online channel now.

Even though e-commerce can make the difference in a critical historical moment compared to what could have happened ages ago, it’s not easy to be served “in time”. There’s a long queue if you want to order online at Esselunga or at other supermarkets, but great help is given by the available on-demand courier service such as Glovo.

Smart working arrived in Italy: a chance to quickly cover the cultural gap within the european colleagues

Last but not least, Covid-19 forced us Italians finally to adopt smart working for all.

In Icecat we work directly with global brands and retailers all over the world, and have the chance to “experience” the differences within the Dutch internet culture and the culture in the rest of Europe, especially Italy when it comes to work from home or, in general, to work with more flexibility.

The graphic above shows the adoption of the smart working formula by European countries, marking Italy as the one where flexibility is still not in place.

We don’t yet know the actual numbers, but most probability all of the Italian enterprises have now all of or most of their employees working from home.

A sustainable future is possible and might be the only possible future

Frankly speaking, experiencing these days in Milano can be a revelation also in terms of better conditions that you couldn’t have ever related to Milan:

  • No traffic, no smog, no noises;
  • Clearer air, more peace, less stress.

That’s unbelievable that we need to be sick to let this place shine again. But, that’s true.

In our society the first priority is given to “economic interest”, to money, but in the end this causes devaluation of our most important interest: our life and the life of our planet.

‘’Crisis is the greatest blessing for people and nations, because crisis brings progress’’ .


We have the chance to go through this crisis, that is already teaching us a lot of invaluable lessons: we should get the best from this lesson to build a sustainable present and sustainable future.

Avatar for Vittorio Marino

Key Account Manager Italy

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