He knew lockdown life before most of the world. Now it’s been a year
One year ago, Marzio Toniolo was just a primary school teacher in the small, quiet northern Italian town of San Fiorano.
But when the country diagnosed its first citizen with coronavirus in the nearby town of Codogno on February 21, which spread to become the worst outbreak in Europe, his life completely changed.
Toniolo became part of a “red zone” along with some 50,000 people in a cluster of towns sealed off in what turned out to be a futile attempt to contain the virus – the first locations outside of China to be put under a Covid lockdown.
With a passion for photography, Toniolo posted his intimate pictures of life inside the red zone on social media, where he was discovered by Reuters.
His story, told through photographs and video of the family and locals coping with the new way of life, was shared by international news organisations all over the world.
Flicking through the nostalgic pictures on his laptop, Toniolo recalls the anxiety and fear felt in those initial days.
His favourite is a picture of his three-year-old daughter Bianca painting his toes with red nail varnish, while his wife Chiara Zuddas looks on from the bedroom balcony.
“It recounts a completely normal moment in an extraordinary dramatic period,” he said.
Back then, a ‘lockdown’ was unprecedented, people wearing masks was unusual and the words ‘social distancing’ were not yet part of everyday vocabulary.
No-one knew this would become the new normal across the globe.
Taking photographs helped Toniolo deal with the uncertainty.
“Photography is my greatest passion. To tell a story through pictures is something that helps me be ok. It is almost therapeutic because many times it really cheered me up particularly at the beginning when there was a lot of uncertainty and we didn’t know what was happening,” he said.
The clampdown was extended to all of Italy more than two weeks after the initial ‘red zones’. Then, one-by-one, countries all over Europe enforced their own lockdowns.
For Toniolo, reassuring the public with his first-hand experience was more important than the international attention his reporting was gaining.
“Those who followed my photographs and our story, I think, they could prepare themselves better for the impact (when it hit them).”
Fast forward to February 2021, and Toniolo’s family find themselves in a déjà vu situation.
The family are stuck at home in quarantine – again. It took a whole year, but the threat of coronavirus has now crept into their family home.
Toniolo’s wife, 32-year-old Chiara, had contact with someone who tested positive and is isolating in her bedroom.
Marzio and his grandmother Ines Prandini, whose husband passed away after lockdown ended last year, stay downstairs wearing masks.
Being stuck indoors, they feel as if they have gone back in time, reliving “the first period of anxiety and fear.”
“Everything that we are living through at the moment has a certain feeling of déjà vu because it really feels as though we have gone back one year,” Toniolo said
“To relive the same things, to feel the same way, to have the same sensations almost to smell the same smells and have the same taste, to breath the same air of that moment. I can’t believe it,” he said.
To try and feel a sense of normality, Bianca sits on the floor outside her mother’s bedroom as they draw pictures for eachother, passing the pieces of paper through the gap under the door.
The bedroom door separates them as they chat while eating a plate of risotto for dinner.
A bit of hope for the family is that Marzio and Chiara will soon receive vaccines, as they are both school teachers.
“We really saw…the light at the end of the tunnel but now we have to wait once more and hope everything is ok,” Toniolo said.
In Italy, where more than 93,000 people have died of Covid, most of the country is currently in a ‘yellow zone’, meaning people can move around within with regions between a curfew, while bars and restaurants can open for most of the day.
The yellow zone means Bianca can at least say hello to her best friend from behind the front garden fence.
She turns four-years-old in May, when more than a quarter of her life will have been spent living in the Covid era.
“I can’t wait until coronavirus ends,” she told her dad.