Gianfranco Bergomi didn’t pay much attention to the phrase ‘social distancing’ when the rules were introduced in his home town.
Like many of us, Mr Bergomi continued his routine and headed out every morning for a coffee with friends.
Three of his cafe companions are now dead.
On the other side of the world, in the Victorian coastal town of Torquay, his nephew Luca Rossi anxiously awaits calls and texts from his family.
Mr Bergomi, and other relatives, have begun showing flu symptoms – along with thousands of others in Bergamo, in Italy’s Lombardy region where hundreds of people have already died from COVID-19.
“My grandparents have been locked in their house for a month and even my own parents don’t visit, to protect them,” Mr Rossi told The New Daily.
The hospital in his home town is so overwhelmed “they’re not doing funerals any more – just burning bodies”, he said.
But it’s not just the status of his family’s health that has Mr Rossi on edge.
Looking around the streets of the Surf Coast, which he calls home after moving to Australia seven years ago, the university academic fears the same patterns of complacency are continuing here.
In a message to friends on Sunday he pleaded for them to stay home:
“[Italy had] pretty much the same trend…we are just one month behind,” he wrote.
I drove around town yesterday and still saw lots of people behaving like nothing is going on. That is how s–t hit the fan really fast back home.’’
His fears have been echoed nationwide – and across the globe, with photographs of beachgoers packing NSW’s Bondi Beach (in defiance of social distancing pleas) going viral at the weekend.
“What happened at Bondi Beach yesterday was not OK, and served as a message to federal and state leaders that too many Australians are not taking these issues seriously enough,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Sunday.
Mr Morrison described the situation as “deadly serious” as he urged people to heed the social-distancing advice.
Hours later, state governments started announcing major bans on ‘non-essential’ activity.
It’s the closest thing to lockdown in Australia so far.
People can still move about town. Just make sure to stay 1.5 metres apart from each other and avoid touching, including handshakes and hugs.
For other advice on coronavirus social etiquette, read this.
Stay in, stay alive
Bill Bowtell, a strategic health policy adviser and Adjunct Professor at the University of New South Wales, said Australians should not leave their homes unless they absolutely have to go out (such as for food or medicine).
“Our caseload is rising exponentially – we are where Italy was on the 6th of March,” Professor Bowtell, who helped lead Australia’s response to the AIDS crisis, told The New Daily on Sunday.
“The gravity of the situation is really serious, as serious as anything anybody has ever had to face in the history of this country and the world. We have to take dramatic action.”
Professor Bowtell’s key message to all Australians is: “Stay in, stay alive”.
Mr Rossi agreed, adding it was “crucial that everybody takes social distancing really seriously to try to avoid what happened in Italy”.
“Don’t panic. Just accept the situation, which is temporary, and don’t try to go around the system and think you’re smarter than other people because that’s when problems happen.
“This has to be tackled as a community. Everybody has a part to play and we’re all in the same boat.”