The New Covid Divide: Risk Takers vs. Risk Showers

ROME – The whole family is vaccinated, even relatives, and all are complying with masking requirements and adhering to Italy’s strict coronavirus restrictions. They are also everywhere in how they live their lives.

Mariagiovanna Togna is willing to accompany her children on outdoor play dates after school. But her husband, more anxious by nature, still wears rubber gloves, wipes the groceries and refuses visitors. One of her sisters in Rome is more laid back and goes to yoga class and work, and her 15-year-old daughter hosted a birthday party indoors. Her brother, in the northern region of Trento, who eventually agreed to get vaccinated, she said, to continue going out to bars, recently vacationed along the Amalfi Coast. But with the approach of the Christmas holidays, his parents, in their seventies, offered him to stay in a bed and breakfast.

Everyone who returned home to Benevento had to take a rapid test, including another sister, who depends on their mother for childcare. Even though the government has shot down efforts in the Campania region, where she lives, to delay in-person school, she prefers to keep her child out of kindergarten.

“We are all vaccinated, many already have the third dose, we all have the civic sense to look out for ourselves and others,” she said. “But we have different lifestyles.”

As the Omicron variant of the coronavirus personally touches or swirls around so many individuals, vaccinated and largely protected families are strained by varying levels of comfort. It’s much the same around the world, especially where significant parts of the population have been vaccinated, such as Italy, which now has one of the highest rates in the world.

First slammed by the virus, Italy today holds the promise of a near future where the schism in society is no longer between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, nor between the socially responsible and the talkative, but between the risk takers and risk averse.

For many with booster shots, life has become a constant negotiation between those who want to resume dining in restaurants, those who are still hesitant to accept deliveries and those who just want to catch the virus already and be done with their mandatory quarantines. .

For many vaccinated families, the recent holiday season and New Year’s Eve celebrations have hammered home these variations, as teenagers dropped in after the holidays to take a swab test and reunite with cooped-up uncles petrified by the virus, or grandparents unsure about the protection of their booster shots. leave them. In Italy, where generations of families often see each other and often live together, navigating the vagaries of Omicron’s decorum is a constant exercise.

“In my world there is no vax,” said Giuseppe Cavallone, 73, who strolled through the grounds of Villa Doria Pamphili in Rome with his wife. But that didn’t mean they lived carefree. They had given up going to the movies, in part because of the discomfort of wearing a mask for three hours straight, and had given up on their annual trips to Paris and London. But their son, also fully vaccinated, was less cautious, flying to Patagonia for a vacation.

“Young people feel much freer,” said Mr Cavallone’s wife, Maria Teresa Pucciano, 74. She added that they recently went to a wedding, but one of their friends stayed outside in the cold the whole time.

A growing number of people who have received a third dose of vaccine have, emboldened by the apparent mild symptoms of Omicron for vaccinees, entered a training phase of the pandemic. Some try to time their resulting quarantines on a social and school calendar, or to time infections to coincide with those of friends. Instead, others are still accepting a virus that is seemingly everywhere and forcing themselves to adjust their comfort levels and do more, be more social, or even dine at a real restaurant.

On a recent Sunday at Il Cortile restaurant in Rome, where the front door bore a big reminder that all diners must present a health pass and proof of their vaccinations, Isabella Carletti, 65, woke up from lunch with her husband and went out.

“I felt uncomfortable in there, I wanted to get some fresh air,” she said. “We usually book outside, but couldn’t find a table.”

She lit a cigarette and suggested the smoke was “less dangerous” than the air indoors. But then she came back.

In Italy, more than 80% of the population, including children, received two doses of the vaccine. This number is expected to increase because 90% of the population, including many children who only recently became eligible for vaccination, have already received a dose.

The Italian government has gradually tightened the screws on the unvaccinated, and on Tuesday new restrictions will come into force requiring the vaccination of people aged 50 and over.

“Most of the problems we face today depend on there being unvaccinated people,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said. He added that “unvaccinated people are much more likely to develop the disease and severe forms of the disease” and put pressure on hospitals.

To force vaccinations, the health system will forward the names of unvaccinated people over 50 to tax authorities so they can be fined. But the real deterrent remains isolation from public life, with everything from entering a cafe to riding a public bus or going to work barred to the unvaccinated.

Since the government announced its plans, around 600,000 people a day, or about 1% of the population, have received a dose of the vaccine, including the 45% of Italians who are now receiving their third dose. But among them are also about 60,000 to 90,000 people who receive their first dose. Many are likely to be children, but the government is also confident the new rules are motivating more people over 50, who are more vulnerable, to get vaccinated. It is still estimated that 10% of Italians are not vaccinated, many of them in their 40s and 50s.

Proponents of a faster vaccination campaign would like the government to impose the vaccine on people aged 40 and over, as around 15% of people aged 40 are still unvaccinated. But the current delicate political moment – ​​following a destabilizing presidential election – has postponed that for now. In any case, the government is satisfied with the progress.

Maria Claudia Di Paolo, 71, and her husband, Natale Santucci, also 71, said they too had been encouraged by the success of Italy’s vaccination campaign and feared that vaccine skeptics would attract too much attention. ‘Warning. The couple, who contracted Covid last year after inviting friends over for dinner, recently decided to invite their first unrelated guest over for a meal.

Then the guest, a doctor like Mr Santucci, called to say that one of his patients had tested positive, but he himself had tested negative and could still come.

“We said, ‘Better wait,'” said Mr Santucci, who added that the couple had moved their weekend family lunches to an outdoor table at a local restaurant. But they celebrated Christmas together at home with their children and grandchildren, spaced out around a large table, avoiding hugs and kisses and sensing each other’s comfort levels. “There is great variability within vaccinated families,” he said.

Ms. Togna said she felt isolated and destitute. Seeing so many people around her infected, quarantined and then living on, she said, had encouraged her to try to stray ever so slightly from the extremely cautious end of the spectrum. But it was hard.

“On the one hand, I think I have to change my behavior and train my whole family, but it will be very difficult,” she said. “Even if it’s endemic, there’s always a risk.”

Gaia Pianigiani contributed report.

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