Students, parents and teachers are struggling to cope with the Italian government’s decision to close all schools and universities nationwide until 15 March as it grapples to contain Europe’s worst outbreak of coronavirus. The virus had claimed 148 lives in the country by Thursday evening, according to government figures.
“It is not easy,” said Maurizio Bufalini, 45, who works at a court in Ferrara, in Emilia-Romagna. “My wife and I had to use our holidays and paid leave to stay at home with our little daughter. I hope the government will intervene soon, otherwise it will be a disaster.”
Schools were already closed in the northern regions worst affected by the outbreak, including Lombardy, Veneto, Piedmont and Friuli Venezia Giulia, as well as parts of Liguria and Marche, but on Thursday the closures were rolled out across the country in a bid to stop the spread of coronavirus.
“I have two children and the little one attends a private kindergarden which is not going to refund the monthly fee,’’ said Rosamaria Battaglia, 33, who works at a nautical agency in Palermo.
“This week we’ll get a babysitter, but hopefully next week we’ll find a more economic solution. Being a mother and a worker in Italy is hard, being a mother and a worker in Italy during the outbreak of Covid-19 is really stressful.”
The government has announced it is making €7.5bn available to help families and companies and is evaluating the possibility of providing support to families, including reimbursements for childcare costs and unpaid leave from work.
“We should not assume that people are home using up holiday pay or paid leave,” Elena Bonetti, the minister for equal opportunities and family, told Radio Capital.
Some experts and scientists have disagreed with the decision to close all schools. An authoritative source at the Italian Scientific Committee told La Stampa that the government’s decision was “evaluated as void of scientific evidence and above all with limited effectiveness if not carried out over time”.
The government says it has the support of the scientific community and has the evidence to prove it. Many teachers and lecturers are continuing to teach students online.
The problems are not only affecting parents, but students as well, especially university students who were poised to graduate in March.
Roberta Bivona, 27, a literature student at the University of Palermo, was scheduled to meet a panel of professors to discuss her honours thesis on 11 March.
“At first they informed me that my thesis defence would take place without observers, who are normally present as audience members,” Bivona said. “Now everything has changed with the closure of universities. Yesterday we received an email from the university rector, who is considering the possibility of thesis defences via Skype.”
University academics are also struggling to cope with the closures.
James Schwarten, an American university lecturer based in Rome, acknowledges the hardships the situation has created. “The coronavirus outbreak has generated a stressful predicament for university institutions that accommodate US study-abroad students, not to mention for university professors,’’ he said. ‘’This adverse situation has created a general climate of uncertainty as many students have already returned to the US, as well as concern for student enrolments in summer and fall, which could be negatively affected. If that scenario is borne out, many adjunct faculty members could find themselves in severe financial straits.”
In the township of Vo’, the first to be placed in the red zone, schools have been dealing with closures for the last 15 days.
A school in Lozzo Atestino, in the province of Padua and in the red zone, has been using remote online learning tools in place of classroom teaching.
“We had to do something,” said Alfonso D’Ambrosio, the headmaster. “The education minister sent us 25 tablets for needy students. We are moving forward with our classes with excellent results … Our curriculum is important, but even more so now is to communicate to the students that the school is their ally. Some of the children’s parents have tested positive for the virus, and at this time we felt the need to support them.”
Many experts have offered to help with the remote lessons, including Luca Vullo, who volunteered to hold classes on emotional intelligence for pupils in Lozzo Atestino. “When I learned of this opportunity, I was compelled to participate voluntarily,” said Vullo, a theatre director, actor and coach. “These are important topics in this precise moment, in which it is necessary to interpret and understand our emotions and our body.”