Covid’s new division: risk takers vs. risk-taking

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

Mariagiovanna Togna is willing to accompany her children to outdoor play dates after school. But her husband, who is more anxious by nature, is still wearing rubber gloves, drying groceries and rejecting visitors. One of her sisters in Rome is more laid back and goes to yoga class and at work, and her 15-year-old daughter held her birthday indoors. Her brother, in the northern part of Trento, who finally agreed to be vaccinated, she said, to keep going out to bars, recently went on holiday along the Amalfi Coast. But as the Christmas holidays rolled around, their parents, in their 70s, asked him to stay in a bed-and-breakfast.

Everyone who went home to Benevento had to take a quick test, including another sister who is dependent on their mother to babysit. Although the government postponed efforts in the Campania region, where she lives, to delay personal schooling, she prefers to keep her child out of kindergarten.

“We are all vaccinated, many with the third dose already, we all have a bourgeois sense of being careful for ourselves and for others,” she said. “But we have different lifestyles.”

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

Italy, originally affected by the virus, has today promised a near future in which the schism in society is no longer between the vaccinated and the unvaccinated, or the socially responsible and the spotters, but between the risk-takers and the risk-takers.

For many with booster shots, life has become a constant negotiation between those who want to resume dining at restaurants, those who are still reluctant to accept deliveries, and those who just want to get the virus already and get their mandatory quarantines over.

For many vaccinated families, the recent holiday season and New Year celebrations brought these variations home as teens stumbled upon parties to take a cotton swab test and reunite with closed uncles who were petrified of the virus or grandparents were unsure how to protect their booster shots. left them. In Italy, where generations of families often see each other and often live together, navigating the whims of Omicron is a constant exercise.

“In my world, there is no no-wax,” said Giuseppe Cavallone, 73, who was walking in Villa Doria Pamphili Park in Rome with his wife. But that did not mean that they lived carefree. They had given up going to the cinema, in part because of the discomfort of wearing a mask for three hours in a row, and had given up their annual trip to Paris and London. But their son, also fully vaccinated, was less cautious and flew to Patagonia on holiday.

“The young people feel much more free,” said Mr. Cavallone’s wife, Maria Teresa Pucciano, 74. She added that they were recently at a wedding, but one of their friends stayed outside in the cold all the time.

An increasing number of people who have received a third dose of vaccine, encouraged by the seemingly mild symptoms of Omicron for those vaccinated, have entered a bring-it-on phase of the pandemic. Some try to time their resulting quarantines to a social and school calendar, or to get infections that coincide with that of friends. Others are instead still coming to terms with a virus that seems to be everywhere, forcing themselves to adjust their comfort levels and do more, to be more social, to even eat inside an actual restaurant.

On a recent Sunday at the Il Cortile restaurant in Rome, where the front door carried a grand reminder that all diners should present a health passport and proof of vaccination, Isabella Carletti, 65, got up from lunch with her husband and walked outside.

“I felt uncomfortable in there, I wanted some air,” she said. We usually book outside, but we could not find a table.

She lit a cigarette and suggested that the smoke was “less dangerous” than the air inside. But then she went in again.

In Italy, more than 80 percent of the population, including children, have received two doses of the vaccine. That number is expected to tick up, as 90 percent of the population, including many children who were only recently eligible for vaccination, already have one dose.

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

“Most of the problems we face today depend on the presence of unvaccinated people,” said Prime Minister Mario Draghi. He added that “unvaccinated people have a much greater chance of developing the disease and severe forms of the disease” and put hospitals under pressure.

To enforce vaccinations, the health service will forward the names of the unvaccinated people over 50 to the tax authorities so that they can be fined. But the real deterrent remains the isolation from public life, where everything from going into a cafe to taking a public bus or going to work is forbidden to the unvaccinated.

Since the government announced its plans, about 600,000 people a day, about 1 percent of the population, have received a dose of a vaccine, including the now 45 percent of Italians receiving their third dose. But among them, about 60,000 to 90,000 people also receive their first dose. Many are probably children, but the government is also convinced that the new rules motivate more people over the age of 50, who are more vulnerable, to be vaccinated. There are still an estimated 10 percent of Italians who are unvaccinated, many in their 40s and 50s.

Proponents of a faster vaccination campaign would like the government to mandate the vaccine for people aged 40 and over, as about 15 percent of 40-year-olds remain unvaccinated. But the current delicate political moment – in the wake of a destabilizing election for president – has postponed it for now. At least the government is happy with the progress.

Maria Claudia Di Paolo, 71, and her husband, Natale Santucci, also 71, said they had also been encouraged by the success of Italy’s vaccination campaign and worried that vaccine skeptics were getting too much attention. The couple, who got Covid last year after having friends for dinner, recently decided to get 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 to wait,'” said Mr Santucci, who added that the couple had moved their weekend family lunch to an outdoor table at a local restaurant. But they celebrated Christmas together at home with their children and grandchildren, separated at a large table, avoided hugs and kisses and felt everyone’s comfort level. “There is great variation in the vaccinated families,” he said.

Ms. Togna said she felt isolated and at her end. Seeing so many people around her get infected, quarantined and then move on with life, she said, had encouraged her to try to move a little away 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 drag my whole family along, but it’s going to be very difficult,” she said. “Even if it’s endemic, there’s always a risk.”

Gaia Pianigiani contributed with reporting.

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