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Coronavirus in Italy: fighting fear

UNITED STATES (OBSERVATORY NEWS) — People in panic, plagued by death anxieties, losing touch with reality … the new coronavirus in Italy and the spectacular measures to stop it have created an “epidemic of fear” parallel to the crisis health, according to psychologists.

The announcement of the first deaths in Italy and the quarantine of more than 50,000 people in eleven cities in the North, the closure of schools and the cancellation of sports and cultural gatherings created a real psychosis at the start of the week, professionals say.

This was first manifested in the storming of supermarkets, typical of “death anxiety”, according to psychiatrist Rossella Candela, in Rome.

“Some adapt. Others act as if they were bombed during the Second World War,” she said by telephone.

The rush on masks – almost impossible to find in pharmacies in the North – is part of the same phenomenon.

After the first movement of panic, there remains a permanent, regular anxiety, fueled by the break in normality.

“Certain provisions have increased anxiety: the closing of schools, churches … In our small Lombard villages, the cancellation of mass is crazy, it’s never seen before,” said Alessandra Braga, psychotherapist in Brescia (Lombardy, north).

“I spent the day Monday in my office trying to bring my patients back to reality,” she told AFP.

Schools and closed offices oblige, “many spend the day at home watching TV, it only talks about the coronavirus, it’s totally anxiety-provoking. I try to convince them to go out, to get some fresh air”, continues Ms. Braga.

But, she notes, “it’s like an emotional epidemic. And it’s very difficult to manage, emotionality”.

– Anti-Chinese fear and racism –

Since the beginning of the crisis, the Italian authorities have insisted on the preventive side of the measures and reassured by speaking of “situation under control”.

But for psychologist Gabriele Zanardi, practicing in Pavia (Lombardy), “the problem arises from interpretation: closing schools, quarantine are preventive measures, but people see them as proof that the disaster is here. are “shocking” measures, when in reality they are reasonable, “he said.

Difficult to fight against the fear aroused by “something intangible, invisible, like a virus”, he admits.

“So we are trying to give a face to this invisible enemy: it will be the Chinese, the person with a cold …”.

In Milan, Chinatown has been deserted for three days: traders and restaurateurs have taken the lead and preferred to close shop. For fear of being ostracized in a region ruled by the far-right League of Matteo Salvini.

In Turin, after the announcement of the first death of the epidemic, a 40 year old Chinese woman was beaten in the street by strangers who shouted: “you have the virus, go away if not I kill you”.

“Italy has become a country that is afraid,” worries the newspaper La Stampa Mariella Enoc, director of the Bambino Gesu hospital in Rome. “The phobias concerning this virus are taking precedence over reason and the scientific word”.

– Humor –

For the psychologists questioned by AFP, the most worrying problem comes from the “fake news” which turns in loop. The false announcement of the closure of all Italian schools until March 5 had to be the subject of an official denial Tuesday.

Conspiracy theories are getting carried away: the virus would remain active for up to six days on packages from China, the epidemic would aim to kill the economy of the rich Lombardy …

Paradoxically, people in quarantine appear less worried than those who are outside. “They are faced with reality, while those outside have only the perception of things,” said Gabriele Zanardi.

Fortunately, there is humor. It is this woman who exclaims: “After a week locked up at home, if my children do not die from coronavirus, I kill them myself!”.

Or this photo on Twitter of packets of penne pasta on empty displays, with the following comment: “the great defeat of the coronavirus is that it was not able to convince the Italians to like these penne”.

“I think that in terms of psychological perception we have experienced the peak of uncontrolled terror in recent days”, relativizes Mr. Zanardi, adding: “little by little, life will resume a little normalcy. And man’s habitue. The exceptional will become routine”.

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