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The student in the Italian epicentre

Living near a COVID-19 hotspot

Valentina Bernardi, 23, in isolation in Lombardy, Italy.

Isolated with her family and in full health, Valentina Bernardi says that she is one of the lucky ones in an Italian region devastated by COVID-19.

Bernardi lives in the hardest hit region, Lombardy, while most of her relatives live at the epicentre of the pandemic in Bergamo.

The virus hit before most realised what was happening; Bernardi was about to finish her degree in business economics when the outbreak forced isolation measures across the country. In just two weeks, Bergamo’s main coronavirus camp hospital was built 300 metres from her boyfriend’s house.

While the pandemic spreads, volunteers are hustling to build a more permanent hospital in an exhibition centre near Bernardi’s home.

As she took this short interview, an ambulance could be heard whirling past.

Can you describe when things first started getting serious?

Even though I was primarily involved in what was happening, at the beginning we weren’t taking the emergency as seriously as we should have been. We would have never imagined the consequences. I started to understand that something was going on when some of my friends from Bergamo actually started to lose their grandparents and family members.

I had just finished my exams period, so I went skiing with my boyfriend and, honestly, my first and only worry was being able to do everything I planned to do on that short holiday. But when I came home everything changed. One night I was home with my friends, and they decided that Lombardy from the morning would be in lockdown. And since that night I haven’t met anyone apart from my family members.

How full-on is the lockdown?

Only a few people are working, we’re only allowed out for food shopping and to purchase necessary items. No jogging, no walks, no going around in two people… nothing.

It’s compulsory for us to wear the masks … We also have to go around with a paper that is signed that says where we are going and there’s a lot of places where the police stop you and ask you what you are doing and where you’re going.

How has your life changed since the coronavirus hit your area?

I have one exam left to graduate; I was planning to do an internship this semester but of course this isn’t possible. So, I’m just home studying statistics in my spare time and waiting to graduate in an online ceremony, probably. My mum and dad run their business so for them closing means having a loss of money, fortunately it’s not such an issue for my family. But many people struggle to buy the necessary things to live. It’s not the same, living isolation in a nice house with everything you want, compared to a small apartment and struggling to get to the end of the month.

I think the only people whose lives really changed are the ones that had a loss and the people like some of my family members, friends or my boyfriend that lives just around the corner from the epicentre of this situation. Because even if they don’t have relatives that die, they see the military force that go around with trucks carrying coffins and they literally hear an ambulance every five to ten minutes. It doesn’t seem like reality to me because I’m just at home chilling with my family, arguing about how to use the mask the proper way when we go to the supermarket and those kinds of things.

Has your mental health been impacted at all?

It’s been affected a little … So, some days I wake up and I don’t have the possibility – if I wake up and I’m a bit worried or stressed – to go out, exercise and meet my friends. If I have something that is worrying me, I can’t get rid of it. It’s stuck in my mind for the rest of the day. Also, you live with the same people, you stay with them all the time, you have no possibility of doing your own things and just taking time off from the situation you are in. That’s how I’m impacted.

I’m describing all of his but at the moment I’m sunbathing on the terrace, helping dad to paint and doing home things like studying, reading and video calling my friends. I’m so lucky, actually.

Have any good, funny or weird things come out of this?

Something very personal and weird: because my daily life is so poor of activities, I started making dreams that reflect everything that I see during the day. For example, if I watch a movie, I would dream that movie with me and my friends as characters and those kinds of things. And it’s something that has affected some of my friends because you do so little that it’s super easy to know where your dreams come from.  It’s all good until you start watching Prison Break and Vikings… And dream about it!

Something funny is the stupid messages that me and my friends send each other; making fake plans for the holidays, saying ‘hey I’m at the beach where are you?’ It’s not even funny but when you are locked in your own house for one month you start enjoying dad jokes more than you ever did before.


Article: Alexia Mitchell is a third year Media and Communications (Sports Journalism) student at La Trobe University. You can follow her on Twitter @lexilegs99

Photo: Supplied by Valentina Bernardi

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