ROME (Reuters) – Even in Italy, where extended family relations run deep, Marzio Toniolo’s tale of a coronavirus lockdown is unusual – four generations cooped up in one house.
They range in age from his three-year-old daughter Bianca to her great-grandfather Gino, 87. The experience tested bonds of love under the stress of cohabitation, and Toniolo believes they have passed the test.
The 35-year-old elementary school teacher, his wife Chiara, 32, and their daughter, were staying in his grandparents’ house in San Fiorano, a small town in northern Italy.
They had moved from Milan, found jobs in local schools, and were waiting for their house in the town to be ready for moving in. Toniolo’s father, Massimo, 62, was visiting from Sardinia.
On Feb. 21, San Fiorano became part of the “red zone”, a cluster of towns sealed off in what turned out to be a futile attempt to contain the virus.
“The worst moment was when the first person in San Fiorano died. I know the son. I was already under a lot of stress,” Toniolo said. “That night, I almost had a panic attack and took a tranquiliser for the first time in years.”
The clampdown later was extended to cover all of Italy.
After about a month, Toniolo’s father returned home to Sardinia.
Things began settling down. But the real concern was Gino, who suffers from short-term memory loss.
“At the start, we were really afraid and did not let him go out. My grandmother used to go to church but when my grandfather started getting worse, she stopped,” Toniolo said.
Gino would go to bed early and wake up at 10 p.m. convinced it was breakfast time.
He could not understand why he had to stay inside and “coronavirus” meant nothing to him, so the family told him the Spanish Flu had returned.
The Spanish Flu hit between 1918-1920 and people of Gino’s generation heard accounts about it when they were young.
“He knew what that was and he started to understand,” Toniolo said.
Gino now wears a mask and goes for a walk, sitting on a bench while neighbours keep a discreet, watchful eye.
Bianca also helps Gino adapt. “No, grandpa, there’s coronavirus about. You can’t kiss me!” she told him.
Toniolo and Chiara send their students lessons and homework projects via the internet.
On Sunday, Italy announced a gradual easing of restrictions.
Toniolo, his wife and daughter look forward to moving into their new home when possible, knowing that, if needed, they are just metres away from the older generation.
It will continue to be a family affair.
(Reporting By Philip Pullella; Editing by Mike Collett-White)