Scenes from Naples, Italy: A city changed by lockdown

A woman stands in the middle of a subway car in Naples, Italy. All forms of public transport in Naples have markers signaling where people are allowed to sit and stand to ensure social distancing. (Savin Mattozzi)

In its 2,500-year history, Naples has witnessed numerous wars, revolutions, natural disasters and invasions. Over the past couple of months, however, Neapolitans experienced something almost entirely new: silence.

Italy was the first European country to institute a strict nationwide lockdown to mitigate the spread of the coronavirus. In the southern Italian region of Campania, of which Naples is the capital, lockdown restrictions were even tighter due to fears that the virus could ravage the chronically underfunded medical system in the south.

Food delivery and nonessential walks, largely permitted in the rest of Italy, were forbidden, bringing life in the city of just under a million people to a nearly complete stop. People were only able to exit their homes to go grocery shopping or to the pharmacy and were required to carry documentation explaining why they were outside.

A man walks down Vico Conte di Mola in the Spanish Quarters neighbourhood of Naples, Italy. After nearly two months of strict lockdown, many residents of Naples’ densely populated historic neighbourhoods flocked to more open areas of the city, leaving certain sections as empty as they were during phase one of the lockdown. (Savin Mattozzi)

A light at the end of the tunnel appeared on 26 April, when Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that an easing of lockdown restrictions would begin on 4 May. Although most stores and businesses would remain closed, people in Naples would be allowed to take walks, exercise, deliver food and visit relatives.

People wait their turn to enter a corner store on Via Toledo in Naples, Italy. Some small shops only allow one customer in at a time to comply with social distancing measures. (Savin Mattozzi)

A woman waits for customers outside of a street pizzeria in the Santa Lucia Neighbourhood of Naples, Italy. Restaurants and street food vendors are struggling to recuperate their losses after nearly two months of inactivity in Naples and the surrounding Campania region. (Savin Mattozzi)

Fish market employees prepare to open up their shop in the Spanish Quarters neighbourhood of Naples, Italy. Open air markets faced heavy restrictions during phase one of lockdown but were allowed to remain open. (Savin Mattozzi)

As people exited their homes, they walked into a different Naples than the one they left two months prior. Announcements in the metro reminded people they must wear a mask at all times. Large jugs of hand sanitizer sat on tables outside of cafes. Police erected checkpoints for vehicles entering and exiting the country’s most densely populated city.

A municipal police officer checks the documents of a car stopped at a checkpoint in Naples, Italy. Travel between regions in Italy is still restricted and police continue to stop vehicles at highway entrance points across the city. Travel between regions is expected to resume on 1 June. (Savin Mattozzi)

People buy fruits and vegetables at a mini market as scooters squeeze past in the Spanish Quarters neighbourhood of Naples, Italy. Maintaining one to two metres of distance is a difficult feat for people living in Naples’ tight historic neighbourhoods, where some streets are barely wide enough for a car to pass through. (Savin Mattozzi)

People walk along the pedestrian section of Via Toledo in Naples, Italy. After nearly two months of strict lockdown, Neapolitans were able to exit their homes on 4 May to take walks, do limited physical exercise and visit close relatives. (Savin Mattozzi)

On 4 May, the first post-lockdown train from hard-hit Milan arrived in Naples’ Central Station. Passengers were ushered into a line by authorities with loudspeakers, reminding them to keep a two-metre distance as medical personnel in full protective gear checked each person’s temperature. The usually chaotic station was transformed into a series of calculated checkpoints as passengers looked wide-eyed at the men in protective medical clothing as well as the row of journalists pointing their cameras at them. After passing through the final two police checkpoints, passengers were allowed to exit the station.

A rail worker arriving in Naples from Milan has his temperature checked at Central Station in Naples, Italy. On 4 May, passengers and rail workers arriving in Naples on the first train from hard-hit Milan had to go though heavy security and medical screenings before being allowed to leave the station. (Savin Mattozzi)

Despite this new reality and the continuing economic toll, Neapolitans are starting to slowly breathe life back into their city. From baskets that hang down from people’s windows filled with food for the city’s poor, to friends bantering as they walk along a busy Via Toledo, life in Naples is continuing to move forward, just as it has for the past 2,500 years.

Savin Mattozzi is a journalist based in Naples.


What's actually in the UK government’s bailout package for Transport for London?

Wood Green Underground station, north London. Image: Getty.

On 14 May, hours before London’s transport authority ran out of money, the British government agreed to a financial rescue package. Many details of that bailout – its size, the fact it was roughly two-thirds cash and one-third loan, many conditions attached – have been known about for weeks. 

But the information was filtered through spokespeople, because the exact terms of the deal had not been published. This was clearly a source of frustration for London’s mayor Sadiq Khan, who stood to take the political heat for some of the ensuing cuts (to free travel for the old or young, say), but had no way of backing up his contention that the British government made him do it.

That changed Tuesday when Transport for London published this month's board papers, which include a copy of the letter in which transport secretary Grant Shapps sets out the exact terms of the bailout deal. You can read the whole thing here, if you’re so minded, but here are the three big things revealed in the new disclosure.

Firstly, there’s some flexibility in the size of the deal. The bailout was reported to be worth £1.6 billion, significantly less than the £1.9 billion that TfL wanted. In his letter, Shapps spells it out: “To the extent that the actual funding shortfall is greater or lesser than £1.6bn then the amount of Extraordinary Grant and TfL borrowing will increase pro rata, up to a maximum of £1.9bn in aggregate or reduce pro rata accordingly”. 

To put that in English, London’s transport network will not be grinding to a halt because the government didn’t believe TfL about how much money it would need. Up to a point, the money will be available without further negotiations.

The second big takeaway from these board papers is that negotiations will be going on anyway. This bail out is meant to keep TfL rolling until 17 October; but because the agency gets around three-quarters of its revenues from fares, and because the pandemic means fares are likely to be depressed for the foreseeable future, it’s not clear what is meant to happen after that. Social distancing, the board papers note, means that the network will only be able to handle 13 to 20% of normal passenger numbers, even when every service is running.

Shapps’ letter doesn’t answer this question, but it does at least give a sense of when an answer may be forthcoming. It promises “an immediate and broad ranging government-led review of TfL’s future financial position and future financial structure”, which will publish detailed recommendations by the end of August. That will take in fares, operating efficiencies, capital expenditure, “the current fiscal devolution arrangements” – basically, everything. 

The third thing we leaned from that letter is that, to the first approximation, every change to London’s transport policy that is now being rushed through was an explicit condition of this deal. Segregated cycle lanes, pavement extensions and road closures? All in there. So are the suspension of free travel for people under 18, or free peak-hours travel for those over 60. So are increases in the level of the congestion charge.

Many of these changes may be unpopular, but we now know they are not being embraced by London’s mayor entirely on their own merit: They’re being pushed by the Department of Transport as a condition of receiving the bailout. No wonder Khan was miffed that the latter hadn’t been published.

Jonn Elledge was founding editor of CityMetric. He is on Twitter as @jonnelledge and on Facebook as JonnElledgeWrites.