As the coronavirus grips Italy and stringent measures are taken to slow the spread of the infection, a local radio station is providing citizens with a sense of normality amid a quarantine.
The station broadcasts from Codogno, a town now known as the “Wuhan of Italy” under lockdown. Trains do not stop there, and the streets are empty.
“Good morning, Codogno!” says 82-year-old presenter Pino Pagani, starting his live broadcast from inside Lombardy’s red-zone area, where about 50,000 people have been under quarantine for almost two weeks.
Pagani then reads an inspirational message sent in from listener Diego Lazzanoni, an Italian living in Castiglione d’Adda town:
“We are here in our homes to fight with our childhood friends and families. Although we are on our knees right now, I feel the silent vicinity of my town. Even if the streets are empty, and no sound is to be heard, I know that when this nightmare is over, we will be partying as we alone know how. We don’t and won’t give up.”
Messages like this can often be heard on Radio Zona Rossa, or Radio Red Zone, which was set up amid the coronavirus emergency, using the local Radio Codogno’s frequencies.
Twice a day, presenters update Italians under quarantine with the latest government information, opening hours for shops and post offices and timings for medical wards.
Guests, including authorities, are invited on air to shed light on their efforts to tackle the infection.
The channel’s Facebook page has about 1,000 followers who send in messages of appreciation as they find ways to entertain themselves at home – “you guys are great”, “thank you, Pino”.
“People need to talk and have information,” Pagani told Al Jazeera. “In particular the elderly, who are going through a very tough time, as they are sometimes left on their own.”
Listeners often call in with questions.
“An old lady called us a couple of days ago, saying she lacked a thermometer to take her temperature,” said presenter Francesco D’Adda. “She asked about what she should do.”
Within minutes, Radio Zona Rossa alerted the local branch of the civil defence, which provided the woman with a thermometer.