You can't eat gelato through a mask

Australian writer Desmond O'Grady, 90, with his granddaughters in Rome as a virus lockdown is eased.
Australian writer Desmond O'Grady, 90, with his granddaughters in Rome as a virus lockdown is eased.

Australian Desmond O'Grady is an author, playwright and journalist who for more than 50 years has lived in Italy where the coronavirus has hit hard, killing more than 32,000 people.

At the age of 90 he describes Italian life returning to a new "abnormal" as the country's virus lockdown is eased and people again get out and about:

I took the permission for family reunions, which for two months were prohibited, as the end of coronavirus restrictions.

But then we were told to wear masks and gloves during the meetings and keep our distances. These measures were to avoid my three young granddaughters, perhaps virus bearers, infecting me.

Cautioned, I decided to meet my son Kieran and his daughters outside their apartment on May 4 and go for a walk because closed spaces are rated as dangerous.

The granddaughters looked the same as before except for the youngest Mia (7) being taller, but they had changed because they accepted the new normal, which for me was all abnormal.

Masked, we walked to the Janiculum hill which overlooks Rome and then to the Miami ice cream shop with Emma ( 14 ) and Beatrice ( 12 ) arguing whether its name meant the American city or Mi - ami - Love me in Italian.

Eating ice cream enabled us to remove the face shield and for me that was the only normal moment. We parted with Mia darting forward to smack my hand in a high five which was the sole direct physical contact.

I had learnt that the relaxation of restrictions was to be gradual - the change was from hiding from the coronavirus to living with it. The permission was only the first step in what was hoped to be the transit of virus. Subsequent steps could be postponed if it resurged.

Still it was a relief to visit relatives after two months confinement, apart from permission to walk within 200 metres of home or go to a medical appointment, a pharmacy or a food outlet.

I am used to working at home but it is different when you are free to go out whenever you want.

The restrictions resulted in almost continuous reading or writing except for watching television's doomsday bulletins at 6pm, a grisly official announcement of how many hundreds had been infected that day and how many hundreds had died, or from 8.30pm when four of the major channels usually transmitted discussions about the pandemic.

Yet there is nostalgia for the lockdown period: the silence with few cars on the roads, the almost constantly blue skies empty of planes and smog, the springtime budding. It seemed a blessed suspended time in which it was hard to believe in the threat of an invisible killer.

It was most active in Italy's prosperous north from which came sobering television images of emergency wards with victims whose lungs were being scorched by coronavirus, and stories of army trucks leaving cities by night, transporting corpses to be thrown into open graves far away.

These images made me worried by any symptoms,such as a slight sore throat, which could foreshadow coronavirus infection.

Doctors and nurses battled against the virus, despite the shortage of masks, gloves, reagents and the app to facilitate tracing those positive cases, which continued after Phase I began to wind down on May 4.

Slowness in getting the government's announced aid money to those who need it, because of bottlenecks in bureaucracy and some banks, also continued.

The Phase 2 bounceback, which pits saving lives against saving the economy, is more complicated than Phase I.

From May 18 factories and offices, coffee bars, restaurants, shops and barbers reopened. If all goes well, everything else will be reopened by early June. In all cases social distancing and other protective measures will be preserved.

However many complain that regulations to protect people can mean others will die of hunger because social distancing reduces business by 50 per cent but costs remain the same.

Some restaurants have refused to reopen, some businesses warn that unless conditions enable them to recoup financially they will be vulnerable to Mafia takeovers.

The uncertainties of the future, including a predicted surge of infections from October, have induced some to prolong their homebound lockdown routine which has beome their comfort zone.

Experts say they need psychological help but so will some of those confronted by the uncertainties of Phase 2. That is part of the new abnormal.

Australian Associated Press