Perched on the edge of one of Italy’s medieval cities sits a small community pharmacy, tirelessly helping its country and patients in the fight against the Covid-19 pandemic.
The small pharmacy, just outside of Siena in Tuscany, employs five staff and serves around 3,000 patients — work it shares with just one other community pharmacy. The historic town features picturesque narrow winding streets, as well a typically Italian ageing population.
With the UK an estimated two weeks behind Italy in Covid-19 deaths, we spoke to one of the pharmacists working at this community pharmacy, to get a feel for Italy’s response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Italy has been under a strict lockdown for two and a half weeks.
Italy has been the European epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak, with the number of infected residents overtaking China. The province of Tuscany has – thankfully — reported fewer deaths than the UK so far, but the neighbouring province of Lombardy has recorded over 4,000 Covid-19-related deaths.
‘Every day I’m scared to leave my house’
The pharmacist, who wishes to stay anonymous, spoke first of a relentless fear in the face of the virus. ‘Every morning I wake up thinking it’s all just a bad dream; then I quickly realise that it’s real life,’ he says.
He told The Pharmacist: ‘Even now [several weeks’ on], I admit that every day I’m scared to leave my house to go to work — as people continue to show up coughing and sneezing,’ the pharmacist said, ‘but it’s my job to go out there’.
‘I remember at the beginning of the outbreak, especially after the lockdown was first imposed, people were panicking and lost. They came into our pharmacy for advice, explanations and encouragement. We just decided the best way to help our patients was to keep smiling and joking; to try and break the air of sadness.’
Precautions have been put in place
Despite the anxiety caused by the outbreak, the pharmacist believes that Italian pharmacy is doing well: ‘So far, none of my colleagues have got ill — we’re using all the precautions advised by the government which seem to be working.’
Most of the precautions are similar to actions that British pharmacies have taken to protect themselves, such as putting up a plexiglass divider at the counter, always wearing gloves and masks and frequently cleaning down surfaces.
‘We’ve put a notice at the entrance of the pharmacy saying ‘please clean your hands before entering, use a tissue if you are coughing or sneezing and throw it in the bin. ‘And alongside that we’ve put out some hand sanitiser and tissues,’ he adds.
‘We’ve also put up a sign in the door saying that patients must stay at least 1m apart from one another and that just two people may enter at one time’, which customers are following.
He also reports that pharmacists in Italy are increasingly wearing face shields for extra protection against the virus.
Since the lockdown, they are seeing fewer symptomatic patients
Since the lockdown, imposed almost three weeks ago, the pharmacist says he has started to see fewer patients than seeing before, as more and more people take the lockdown ‘seriously’ and stay indoors.
‘I’m seeing around 200 patients per day now — about half the number of patients I was seeing before the lockdown was imposed. They are finally staying at home, thank God,’ he said.
‘The streets are desolate. Every day people are in a queue at supermarkets or pharmacies waiting to buy essential food or medicines for their families.’
Patients with coronavirus symptoms have only very recently stopped coming into pharmacies, the pharmacist reports.
The Italian lockdown is working
Evidence published yesterday further suggests that the Italian lockdown is working. Confirmed cases totalled 63,927 on Monday (23 March), showing an increase of 4,789 from the previous day — marking the smallest rise in cases in five days.
The pharmacist says he was ‘glad’ to hear the UK was also ‘finally’ in lockdown. Having previously worked in the UK as a locum, he holds a ‘passion’ for the nation and wanted to give a message of support to his UK pharmacy colleagues.
‘It is normal being scared, especially for colleagues who have families at home,’ he says. ‘My recommendation is to do what you feel is right, if you are not feeling safe then do whatever it takes to feel so. This is not a competition: it is a challenge, but I’m sure we will win all together!’