One relative and a priest: fast burials in Italian virus hit town

Published: 05:26 PM, 25 Feb, 2020
One relative and a priest: fast burials in Italian virus hit town
Caption: A man enters a pharmacy displaying on its window a board "mask sold out" in the Chinese district of Milan. AFP
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The burial was over and done in five minutes. Just enough time for the priest to utter a prayer over the body of the elderly woman, in the presence of one relative and two undertakers.

The growing coronavirus outbreak in Italy leaves little room for decorum, and Zorlesco, a northern town of 1,700 residents now under isolation, is trying to manage as best it can.

The normally quiet village is just nine kilometres (five miles) northwest of the hot spot of Codogno in the region of Lombardy, which has reported the most cases of infection in the country, at 212. Seven people have already died in Italy after being infected with coronavirus, all aged between 68 and 88, but the woman buried in Zorlesco was not one of them, instead dying of "old age," said Don Nunzio Rosi, the local priest.

No sick people have been reported as of yet in town, but, he said, that hasn't stopped the locals from living in an "almost unreal atmosphere".

"In our little village, everything has changed in the last three days," Rosi told AFP. "None of us thought we would ever find ourselves in the situation of these cities in China." Today in Zorlesco, shops and businesses are closed and even the church. Rosi is forbidden to celebrate mass in the presence of the parishioners. Instead, he officiates accompanied only by his assistant, the church doors remaining shut.

Coronavirus or not, however, Rosi has left the doors of the church open for a few hours each morning so that the faithful, one by one, can come and say "a little prayer," should they wish.  He also sends his parishioners messages of comfort and extracts from the Bible via Whatsapp.

'Panic moment'

After the declaration of quarantine of 11 towns in Italy's north on Sunday, parishioners had a "panic moment," Rosi acknowledged, and "stormed the supermarkets" as they prepared for weeks of lockdown ahead.

But out of chaos has come something positive, he said, with the pace of life slowing and families spending more time together. "We greet each other, we get news, a chain of solidarity is established," he said, stressing that the villagers don't stay cooped up all day.

As if to prove him right, a young woman -- not wearing a mask -- approaches on the sidewalk. "It's good to walk around," she said.

Another man, Luigi Malabarba, was looking on the bright side. "We'll be fine, we'll be fine," he said. But not everyone is feeling so positive. Another 52 cases were announced by authorities on Tuesday, with the toll of those infected now at 283, including the deceased.

A banker who gave his name as Lorenzo, speaking in the city of Brescia, some 100 kilometres away from Zorlesco, said the coronavirus is "all we talk about." Conspiracy theories are abounding as the virus has spread, he said, "even among the most educated people".

"Some say it's because of the Chinese, others say that if Salvini had been there we wouldn't have had this crisis," he said, referring to the leader of the far-right, Matteo Salvini. "We are a country on the verge of a nervous breakdown."

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