In Italy's coronavirus lockdown, the living are trapped with the dead

These early days of the lockdown will surely be the most important. Eventually we will acclimate to these restrictions, carrying out our new daily tasks like science-fiction zombies wandering a wasteland. The first inclination when things started to close down last weekend was to get around the rules and sneak out. People borrowed dogs to walk because it is one of the accepted reasons to go outside. I strolled around for an hour carrying a shopping bag with a few onions and lemons in it in case I got stopped. But on Saturday, the number of confirmed COVID-19 cases rose to 21,157 and no one wants to break the rules anymore. Three weeks ago we had just three cases.

When the virus exploded here on Feb. 23, I was shocked when the Italian government locked down 50,000 people in 11 communities where the virus first started spreading. I couldn’t imagine what it would be like. On Thursday, the original red zone cleared an incredible hurdle: not one single new case in that entire ground zero area was recorded.

The lockdown is awful, it’s constricting and it breeds fear and paranoia. But it’s the only way out of this—as long as everyone respects it. One feverish person in a grocery store could light it up again.

Before this horrific plague hit Italy, we were sure it was going to stay “somewhere else.” As it crawled south down the peninsula, we’ve been forced to prepare, almost like people watching the trajectory of a Category V hurricane in the distance. Even though we knew it was coming, we weren’t ready at all.