We were travelling in Sicily in March 2020 when the COVID-19 lockdown began. It was on the day we arrived in Cefalù, a pretty little seaside town in the islands north. Three months later, we were still there, stranded until the lockdown slowly began to ease – but still with continuing social distancing.
I used the forced confinement to make this video – about what it was like to live 10-weeks under lockdown – in Italy – one of the first European countries to be hit with COVID-19. The video is now a sort of time capsule – of how it felt at the beginning of the COVID pandemic.
It was a very scary time.
So much was unknown about the virus. It was clearly both deadly and extremely contagious. No one was sure exactly how the virus was being transmitted – orally, by touch or by air? There were no Rapid Antigen Tests. PCR tests were available but very hard to obtain – (you had to be very sick). There was a worldwide shortage of masks, but in Sicily they were unobtainable – for what seemed like weeks and weeks. There was no vaccine. Nobody even knew if a vaccine could be made, or how long it might take. That’s why Italy had no alternative but to use the oldest proven response to any pandemic – to completely stop people from moving around. In Italy “Lockdown” really did mean LOCKDOWN…
We were fortunate that the apartment where we were staying had an excellent internet connection. We used it for everything – for news, for communication, for entertainment and even for exercise classes.
We did have the problem that we couldn’t speak Italian, so finding out what was happening around us wasn’t simply a matter of watching the news on TV. While you can gather a lot from TV pictures, to find out what was really happening, we turned to the internet – especially online Italian newspapers such as PalermoToday and LaRepublica – relying on Google Translate.
The Google translations were not perfect, but good enough for us to follow the progress of the pandemic, and to learn essential info about the lockdown rules, especially valuable because small changes could make a very big difference to our freedom to move outside our apartment.
Obviously we used the internet to stay in touch with our family and friends on the other side of the world.
It still surprises me that mobile roaming fees for international telephone calls have remained extortionate, especailly when online apps such as Facetime and WhatsApp not only make international voice calls effectively free, but video calling as well. Future historians will mark the COVID-19 pandemic as the turning point for a great many social behaviours, but one that may not get a lot of attention is that this lockdown was the moment when video phone calls became universally accepted as perfectly “normal”.
On the entertainment side of things, yes, in this little Sicilian seaside town we had no problem accessing the usual streaming services such as Netflix and Amazon Prime, and the ability to rent videos from Apple and Google. But until the lockdown, I confess one thing I hadn’t fully appreciated was the value of YouTube. Previously, I’d used it mostly as my go-to place for video “how-to’s ” about just about anything, plus for the occasional video on subjects of interest. But I had never thought of it as a place to find “live” TV streaming. So it was a delight to discover ABC Australia’s News 24 on YouTube, not geo-blocked and not behind any paywall.
Stranded for months, in the middle of a pandemic, in a country where I don’t speak the language, hearing Australian news and voices from a familiar source was so very good for my sanity. How good is having the ABC?
But you do have to wonder, with this pandemic and billions of people confined to their homes by COVID-19, how would the world have coped if there had been no internet?
The YouTube excerpts in this video came from: