C. De Melo is an author & art historian in Florence who specializes in historical novels set in Italy.
"If working is no longer a right, paying taxes is no longer a duty"
Last year in Italy...
Shortly after the onset of lockdown in Florence, Italy March 2020, I wrote an article on Hubpages. For those of you who are curious, you can read it HERE.
Like most people, I believed it would be a temporary situation. I even ended my article with the following words: "Be smart, take precautions, but don't panic. No need to wipe out shelves at the grocery store either. This isn't a zombie apocalypse. It's a temporary quarantine until the virus is contained."
When lockdown in Italy went from the proposed 14 days to over 70, no one felt positive. Our lockdown was harsh and downright psychologically damaging. People went hungry due to failing businesses and lack of work. Charity baskets were a common sight outside windows and doors.
It got so bad that by mid-April I broke out in Auditory Shingles--an extremely painful condition that is rare in someone of my age and good health. According to my research, high stress can trigger it.
My beloved Florence was in its death throes, and the government's response was to continue imposing rule after senseless, anti-science rule. Please note that borders remained open to economic migrants during this period, which is counter-productive from a public health standpoint.
While the media terrorized the population with daily numbers of those infected with Covid, actual death spikes were occuring in cancer, heart disease, and suicides. Alcohol and drug abuse, as well as domestic violence, soared throughout Italy and Europe.
I'll never forget the words of a cardiologist to my husband: "In my 40 years of practice, I've never treated so many patients post-cardiac arrest. They are so terrified of Covid that they don't come into the hospital when feeling the symptoms of a heart attack."
Like many critical, independent thinkers, I began to question the government's decisions on how to navigate this contagious virus, especially when politicians began ignoring the advice of health experts. Rules were not based on science, but rather the "whims" of rulers. This left many Italians (and expats) perplexed.
For example, we were compelled to wear masks when entering a restaurant, but could remove them once we sat down to eat (people compare it to reserving a corner of the pool in which to urinate). Supermarket hours were shortened, causing more people to shop at the same time and making social distancing nearly impossible. Social distancing at airports was strictly enforced, only to be ignored once we boarded a crowded airplane. Seats on Rome's subway were taped off in August 2020, but people could stand together like sardines. Schools were closed even though Italian health specialists assured politicians that it was safe for children to attend.
Eduardo Lattes (center), owner of the charming Piccolino Cafe
My Brazilian husband and I decided to leave Italy and spend some time with his mother in Brazil. We arrived in the autumn of 2020 on the heels of a Florentine tragedy. A local restaurant owner saw no way out of his economic devastation and it drove him to take his own life.
We arrived in Brazil only to discover that the financial strain caused by prolonged lockdowns were similar to that of Italy. After being locked down (again) for most of March 2021, they reopened businesses a few days ago and there's already talk of closing again. Politicians bicker back and forth, and the people are at their mercy.
Many of the businesses in our neighborhood have crumbled, which has led to increasing unemployment here in Porto Alegre. I have taken the time to speak with several business owners in my neighborhood. Seeing men and women with tears in their eyes as they watch their life's work dwindle is heartbreaking.
Eduardo Lattes, owner of the Piccolino cafe in Moinhos de Vento, confessed, "I was diagnosed with cancer a few years ago and worked throughout my treatment. I didn't feel well, but I persevered. My chance of dying was 25-30% but I wasn't afraid. Yet here I am about to lose my job over a virus with a 2% mortality rate."
I couldn't argue with his reasoning.
Cafeina e Gasolina
Cafeina e Gasolina
The most compelling business owner I met in my area is Fabiano Rheinheimer. Fabiano loves the USA and has always dreamed of living there. He almost achieved that goal, but the plans fell through so he opened "Cafeina e Gasolina" (Caffeine and Gasoline) cafe / barber shop in 2019.
Thanks to his diligence and hard work, his establishment soon became popular with Harley Davidson and classic car enthusiasts. He began contracting musicians on Sundays, and made Cafeina and Gasolina a family friendly hangout where people could consume coffee, juice, beer, and snacks. You can follow them on Instagram HERE
Fabiano was at the cafe daily, greeting people with a smile and always willing to chat. It's no wonder that he became successful.
Covid hit the following year. Repeated lockdowns and bizarre rules have forced him to sell his home and car in order to save his business. He now employs only three people instead of eight. The two barbers aren't allowed to work during these "on again off again" lockdowns (and one of them has a special needs child).
In short, this honest, proud, hardworking businessman is trying desperately to fight for his right to work in order not to lose everything. Fabiano is one of millions of business owners feeling the same desperation and frustration. He is one of many who are constantly protesting downtown for the human right to make a living in order to provide for oneself and one's family.
Fabiano represents the vast majority of hardworking businesspeople in Brazil
Political corruption is rampant. Rather than invest in public health, politicians misappropriate funds and outright steal taxpayer money. Recently, one Brazilian politician was caught smuggling an enormous sum of cash in his underwear.
Covid revealed a staggering amount of authoritarian despots who impose harsh laws on the masses yet don't follow their own mandates.
According to a recent study by Sebrae (an entity that supports business development), Eduardo Leite, governor of Rio Grande do Sul, is directly responsible for the destruction of one third of all businesses in the state. More businesses are slated to fail in the coming months due to their increasing debt and inability to generate profit.
On Saturday, March 27, 2021 I went to Leroy Merlin here in Porto Alegre. It was literally teeming with people. The parking lot was overflowing. The SAM's Club across the street was also opened, as was the giant economy supermarket next door. Yet...in our neighborhood, no business is allowed to open on the weekend. In fact, as of yesterday we counted nearly fifty "for sale" and "for rent" signs in a two block radius.
Are we to believe that Covid only lurks in small businesses but not in those owned by major corporations? What science supports these ridiculous decisions?
"Eduardo Leite: Exterminator of the Future"
Is it worth it?
Having experienced harsh lockdowns in two different countries / cultures, and seeing similar outcomes, I know I'm not alone in concluding that the "remedy" is worse than the cure. Personally, I rather risk contracting Covid than cowering inside my home and suffering psychological trauma in this dystopian world.
Smoking, drinking alcohol, and taking recreational drugs poses many health risks but people still do it on a regular basis. Vehicular death rates are high, yet I see cars on the road each day. My point is this: RISK is part of life.
There are far more dangerous things in this world than Covid. Destroying the economy of an entire nation and condemning millions to hardship, homelessness, depression, desperation, and famine is not the way to handle a virus with a low mortality rate. As I said last year in my lockdown article, it's not the Bubonic Plague!
Thank you for taking the time to read this op-ed. I look forward to your comments.
Liz Westwood from UK on March 28, 2021:
I found your article on Italy very interesting. This one too is well-written and gives a great insight into the situation in Brazil.
MG Singh from UAE on March 28, 2021:
I wonder how long these lockdowns can carry-on, at some stage man will have to adjust his lifestyle and live with the China virus. Better to do it now.
Pjm on March 28, 2021:
Similar treatment and I imagine type of people that, when a fungus hit the Florida oranges, went and killed off all the orange trees and everybody's backyards to save the industrial side of the orange business.. its like if that new fungus didn't develop in those over populated large commercial Farms...