My life as a sports journalist in Italy’s Covid-19 ‘Red Zone’

Thursday March 19 2020

Undertakers wearing a face mask unload a coffin out of a hearse on March 16, 2020 at the Monumental cemetery of Bergamo, Lombardy, as burials of people who died of the new coronavirus are being conducted at the rhythm of one every half hour. PHOTO | PIERO CRUCIATTI |


Let me tell you this: In my heart, I continue to dream that the Tokyo Olympics will take place as planned, because then it would mean that we would have been able to completely block the coronavirus.

But I now live in a “Red Zone,” where there is limited life, and my reality suggests an unfortunately different hypothesis for the near future.


I look through the window, on the fifth floor of the building, at what is happening on the street which leads to the centre of my city, Vigevano, a city of 60,000 souls, 30 kilometres from Milan.

Occasionally, I see some passers-by. The only noise is of dogs barking in a nearby garden.

Then the nightmare of ambulance sirens. They are many, they send you a message of fear.


Some news filter on social media: friends of youth were killed by this cursed coronavirus. Families have not seen them since hospitalisation.

Funerals are prohibited. Some families received an urn with ashes to cry on at home.

Sure, we can't go out to check this news, but many confirm that this is the terrible truth.


The death toll increases day by day, worse than in war.

And in Italy, experts say that the peak of the infections will probably arrive towards the end of the month, some even speculate in the first part of April.
This means that it will then take maybe three months to find acceptable normality.

Other countries only began yesterday to introduce drastic limitations for the population and therefore their times will logically be longer. I was amazed at the choice of Boris Johnson in the UK, where he launched a sort of “shield” for older people.

So in these countries the recovery times may necessarily be longer, unless the real data of this tragedy are hidden, as has been done previously.

This is what makes us pessimistic about the possibility of believing that it is possible to broadcast the Olympics in July and, therefore, we believe it is important to study a Plan ‘B’ quickly, because the whole competitive summer season is certainly compromised.

We also read about the effect that coronavirus has on the lungs. An athlete could come out devastated by this disease and end his career early.

The IOC rightly put athletes at the centre of all attention and, therefore, certainly will not want to harm their future.

It is natural to postpone the final decision on this matter to later, but it would be bad to continue to delude yourself.

World society this year will have to pay a very high price to get out of this tragedy and sport is an integral part of this society, therefore it will have to suffer.

But it is fortunate that it can recover more quickly if it has clear ideas in mind. I am living in the coronavirus “Red Zone,” so I am afraid that next summer will be without the Olympics.

Merlo is the President of the International Sports Press Association and was a long-time reporter and editor at the Italian sports daily, Gazzetta dello Sport. He lives in Vigevano, Lombardy, near Milan, Italy.