‘Good morning, Codogno!’: A coronavirus radio station in Italy

Radio Red Zone broadcasts from a town under quarantine and brings listeners useful health advice and sense of community.

Italian radio quarantine
Pino Pagani, left, says elderly listeners who feel even more alone under the quarantine find the radio station comforting [Michele Lori/Al Jazeera]

Codogno, Italy – 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.

Italy classroom - reuters
Classrooms at the Piero Gobetti high school in Turin have been sanitised as part of measures to try and contain a coronavirus outbreak [Massimo Pinca/Reuters]

Another elderly lady called the radio feeling extremely lonely.

“Luckily, we were here with other colleagues,” said Pagani. “We kept her entertained for about half an hour. Afterwards, the radio speakers contacted the woman’s municipality to highlight her situation of need.”

Italy is the European epicentre of the virus, the worst-hit country on the continent. More than 3,000 people have been infected, and almost 150 have died. In the lockdown area, more than 550 people caught the virus. 

Radio Zona Rossa constantly reminds citizens of what they can do to contain the virus, such as keeping a safe distance of at least one metre from other people.

“We have everything we need inside the shops,” Pagani said, adding that people should not flock to grocery stores to panic buy and create queues.

“We don’t know when the quarantine will end. This is a great mystery. Knowing the answer is worth several thousand euros,” he joked.

Meanwhile, as Italy struggles to cope, the Catholic Mass has been suspended throughout much of the country’s north in an attempt to limit large congregations.

But the faithful have found other ways to worship during the current Lent period. Priests now live-stream their celebrations on Facebook and YouTube.

A YouTube page of a church in Codogno, the San Biagio Parish, has more than 100 subscribers who praise the high-quality images that are broadcast. Radio Zona Rossa also streams some sermons.

Technology has also come to the aid of teachers and students. Schools have closed across the country until mid-March, and students can follow their courses and present their dissertations on webcams connected to digital platforms provided by their faculties.

Federico Tassone, a 22-year-old nuclear engineering student at the Polytechnic University of Milan, said: “Lessons are uploaded on a platform that students can access with their university credentials … Maybe this is not the only solution, but it is the best one available at the moment.” 

A paramedic walks out of a tent that was set up in front of the emergency ward of the Cremona hospital in northern Italy, on Feb. 29, 2020 [Claudio Furlan/Lapresse/Associated Press]
Source: Al Jazeera