Surviving Italy’s apocalypse: Meet Chibudu Nyiro and Fr. Raphael Ndungu
Published on: March 23, 2020 08:32 (EAT)
Italy has witnessed a dramatic and worrying surge of coronavirus related casualties in the past 24 hours with over 800 people dying in a single day. This has prompted the Italian Government to call in the military to enforce the lockdown in certain parts of the country. Chibudu Nyiro, a Masters student who lives in Bergamo, Lombardy is at the epicenter of the outbreak. The Kenyan student who has lived there for 3 years explained how the situation has forced him to be a prisoner in his own house. “It’s heartbreaking; there is social isolation, especially someone like me who has a housemate, I can’t interact with my housemate because of the fear we could infect each other, just in case he goes outside to the supermarket and picks it up from there or I go outside and pick it up from there, it’s really hard,” he said. Bergamo, where Nyiro lives, could be regarded as ground zero for the coronavirus outbreak in Italy. It’s a wealthy region, which is interconnected by road, rail and air transport with a large population of elderly people: this demographic has been hardest hit with 31 deaths being reported in the first few weeks of March. Social interaction in Bergamo and much of Italy is almost non-existent to help curb the spread of the virus that has infected 40, 000 people and killed over 4000. The mental anguish is taking its toll on many. “I mean it’s heartbreaking, I miss home, I miss my family I miss human contact. It breaks my heart but this is what is going on. We have to continue being careful and isolating ourselves,” Nyiro said. He can only leave his house to buy essentials and requires a special permit to move around. Since Italy is currently on lockdown, he can only spend most of his time doing school research, reading motivational books, video calling friends and family and exercising. “When I wake up in the morning, I like to do some exercises… I am a bit unfit, when I am done I will sit on the floor and read a book…do a bit of research, study languages, at the moment I am reading about this guy (Eliud Kipchoge). I am doing a lot of research on what makes him a good runner,” he told Citizen TV. There are many people in Italy who are fighting for their lives in hospitals that are buckling under the strain of daily COVID-19 cases. The health care system has been brought to its knees. “We’re working in a state of very high stress and tension. Psychological tension has gone through the roof. Unfortunately we can’t contain the situation in Lombardy, there’s a high level of contagion and we’re not even counting the dead any more,” said Daniela Confalonieri, a nurse in Milan. The situation has been compared to an apocalypse. Almost 600km away in Rome; Fr. Raphael Ndungu, a Kenyan student who is studying medicine and surgery, has been spending most of his time indoors because of the lockdown imposed by the Italian government. Fr. Ndungu, who also has a Masters degree in Theology, has lived in Italy for 7 years. And just like many other Catholic priests in the religion’s global headquarters, he has not been celebrating mass in public due to the government’s strict guidelines against public gatherings. “In Rome it’s impossible to go out, the whole country is in red zone, you can’t go outside the house. Since the 4th of this month (March) I have been staying indoors. I decided by myself to stay at home even before they announced on the 9th that people should stay at home,” he said. Father Ndungu, who hails from Ruiru Catholic mission in the Archdiocese of Nairobi, is in his 5th year at the Catholic University of Sacro CuorePoliclinio Gemelli in Rome. He lives 2 and a half kilometers from the Policlino Agostino Gemelli Hospital which has also witnessed a surge in cases. He hasn’t left his house in 16 days. “You can see in the North where the cases started, people started running around, travelling all over and within a week, the cases started coming up,” he explained. Fr. Ndungu, who is also a member of the congregation of ministers of the sick in Karen, Nairobi, has been in constant communication with his friends and family back home. His message is clear: “I pray and I ask fellow Kenyans we try as much as possible to heed what the government is saying, and what the health care facilities are saying they are trying to give us information and try us much as possible to clean our hands as much as possible, you can see in Europe we are having so many problems. We acted late and we are paying the consequences.” With the situation so dire in Italy and the strained health system, the government could consider medical students such as Fr. Raphael Ndungu to be part of the front line to help curb the spread of the disease. The government is also considering tougher measures to restrict movement of people to help flatten the curve of rising COVID-19 cases.