Lonely residents grapple with life indoors as coronavirus shuts Italy down

Photograph by Gabriele Galimberti, National Geographic
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A writer and photographer in Milan have been documenting the pandemic's spread. Now one of them may be sick.

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I have a fever.

It's a low but persistent fever. It increases in the afternoon and shakes me in the morning, with a violence that is not proportionate to the temperature I have. I have the chills, my muscles hurt, and I have a worrying dry cough. And I'm fatigued.

Photographer Gabriele Galimberti and I have worked days and nights over the past few weeks in Milan. Since the COVID-19 epidemic erupted in Italy in late February, we’ve documented each day of the emergency from its epicenter, our region of Lombardy. We’ve visited morgues and hospitals, looking for stories and images that could tell the rest of the world what’s happening here.

We spoke to virologists, hospital press officers, Chinese businessmen, cemetery overseers. We met city employees tasked with disinfecting the streets. To report on the virus without contracting or spreading it, we wore masks when meeting people and stayed at a safe distance. We used hand sanitizers frequently and washed our hands whenever possible. When we decided to focus our work on the effects of social distancing, Gabriele would photograph the subjects from outside their homes, and I would interview them later by phone. This way, we could ensure that no germs were spread while working within the constraints of a country under lockdown. (See National Geographic’s comprehensive coverage on coronavirus.)

In just one month, Lombardy became the most affected part of the country. Despite increasingly restrictive measures to halt the spread of the virus, it didn’t stop. Hospitals...

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