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Life in Italian Lockdown After a Tragic Coronavirus Denial

It wasn’t until death rates began to soar that society began to take the outbreak seriously enough.

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Jewish ghetto area of Rome, March 12.

Photographer: Luca Santini/Contrasto/Redux

When the movie about Italy’s novel coronavirus outbreak is made, the hero will be a bespectacled doctor on the cusp of retirement, whose last rodeo is saving his city, his country, and possibly the world. In the fictional version, he’ll probably perish in an act of noble self-sacrifice. But for now, Massimo Galli of Milan’s Sacco hospital is not only well, but on a mission to make people who minimize the contagion’s severity understand that they’re quite simply wrong.

Throughout history, denial has yielded to reality in stages—and usually too late, according to Galli, who helps oversee the fight against infectious diseases in Lombardy, the region around Italy’s financial capital, Milan. “There’s a first phase, in which you elbow it away, saying, ‘Our neighbor has it, ah, scary, but he’s got it.’ Then there’s the phase in which you realize it’s arrived in your house and you deny it, ‘No it’s impossible!’ ” Galli said on Italy’s La7 television network on March 5. Next comes a tug of war in which inhabitants debate harsh preventive measures that are, tragically, reduced or taken too late.