It has been my nightly ritual for over a year now. Every evening, with dinner in the oven and probably with a glass of chilled rosé in my hand, I reach for the iPad and bring up the daily Covid-19 data on the website of Corriere della Sera. For a long period they made dismal reading, with daily fatalities towards the end of the year nudging 1000 and back where they had been in the height of the first wave, and daily infection rates more than twice as high as back then; on one particularly grim day in November they even hit 40,000.
After the strict Christmas lockdown that followed this horrifying peak, we watched the daily numbers, both new cases and fatalities, fall steadily through January and February. And with this improvement in the numbers, we moved from the red zone to orange and finally to yellow – albeit with the higher thresholds to meet before each transition as well as the night-time curfew that had been put in place by the new Draghi regime. But no sooner had the second wave seemed to have passed than by the end of February, the alpha variant (or ‘variante inglese’ as it was called here at the time) had arrived and very soon I could barely bring myself to look at the daily stats each evening as the curve started to climb rapidly back up again. And sure enough, just as rapidly the country went from yellow back to orange and finally back to red over Easter, shortly before which daily cases had rebounded to 26,000, although the death rate, thankfully, had remained largely stable.
This time, however, lockdowns, travel restrictions and curfews were no longer the only weapons in the country’s armoury. Despite its agonisingly slow start, the vaccine programme had been steadily building up steam and by April it was clear that it had begun to gain traction. As we moved back from red to orange once more my nightly pre-dinner ritual started to include a check of the daily vaccination numbers on the Health Ministry’s website too: by the end of the month, the injection rate was not far off the government’s objective of half a million jabs a day and the daily infection rate had halved. The third wave, it seemed, had at least been contained if not avoided completely.
It was with considerable national relief, therefore, that restrictions were eased again at the start of May leaving only a handful of regions still in orange and the rest, including Le Marche, back in yellow. The curfew was soon put back from 10pm to 11pm (and subsequently to midnight), bars and restaurants re-opened for outside dining, and for the first time in months we could move freely between regions of the same colour, although for any movement between regions of different colours, you either had to demonstrate a ‘need’ for travel or provide proof you had been vaccinated, had recovered from Covid-19, or had tested negative within the last 48 hours. Moreover, the once almost mythical white zones, ie those with lowest numbers and hence the fewest restrictions, now featured prominently in the latest roadmap for summer. Better still, despite this really quite significant loosening of restrictions, the infection rate continued its steady decline, falling over the course of the month from nearly 13,000 to about 3,000 cases per day, with the daily vaccination rate eventually meeting – and often exceeding – the target of half a million jabs a day. And at the very end of the month, Mr Blue-Shirt and I both received our first dose, several weeks earlier than we had originally anticipated. My daily pre-dinner stats check had at last became a cause for cheer rather than gloom.
The encouraging data across the country enabled a small number of regions to move from yellow to white at the start of June, meaning a complete lifting of the curfew and the re-opening of almost all cultural, leisure and entertainment facilities, but leaving the requirement for masks, social distancing and capacity restrictions in place. Incidentally and slightly paradoxically, this actually meant a tightening of restrictions on movement for us. While Le Marche and our closest neighbour Umbria were both in yellow, we were able to travel freely over to Spello (because it’s one of our favourite places), Deruta (for some more terracotta planters) and Gubbio (just because). But when Umbria, but not Le Marche, moved into white a couple of weeks ago, we were once again bound by the rules regarding movement between regions of different colours and so would have had to demonstrate a ‘need’ for travel or provide proof of Covid-free status if we had wanted to nip over to Spello for lunch. But as jab rates have continued to climb (on occasion exceeding 700,000 in one day) and infection rates to fall (last week dipping below 1,000 for the first time since last September), more regions have ‘turned white’ each week, with Le Marche due to join them tomorrow, and the whole country set to be in white by the end of the month.
Naturally, the delta variant is something of a spectre at the feast, with the government keeping a very close eye on its worrying spread in the UK and keeping in place the ban on entry from India for the foreseeable future. Consequently, every step forward is circumscribed with caveats, making it clear that this forward motion cannot be considered a one-way street, even though there are currently very few cases of the delta variant nationally and none so far in Le Marche.
This notwithstanding, and with our second vaccine doses just a fortnight away, we are daring to hope that we may soon be able to enjoy La Dolce Vita very much as we have always known it. And almost as an indication of our optimism, we have just finished refurbishing the guest bathroom and guest bedroom (complete with new bed and solar-powered air con). So now all we need are some guests…