Hotel Michelangelo is a fine place to stay. Located in central Milan, it boasts four stars and close proximity to tourist attractions. Not that those things matter much to its recent guests: They’re forbidden to leave.
As part of efforts to contain Covid-19, which has claimed more than 34,000 lives across Italy, Milanese authorities have converted the 17-floor hotel into a quarantine facility. It opened March 30 with enough space for 300 patients—mostly people well enough to be discharged from hospitals, but who still test positive and don’t have the space to isolate at home.
“It feels like a hospital,” says photographer Alberto Bernasconi. “The smell, the cleaning products, the nurses wearing scrubs and masks. It’s completely different from the normal daily life of a hotel.”
Bernasconi visited in April, donning full protective gear to capture an inside look. A flurry of medical staff filled the polished reception area, now draped in plastic like a construction zone. When “guests” arrived, they were sent up to their rooms via a specially-designated Covid-19 positive elevator, not to emerge for weeks.
The stay is free and typically lasts 14 to 21 days, or until patients test negative twice—an eternity when you’re stuck alone in a 200-square-foot room, unable to hug your loved ones. The only humans they see are the nurses who stop by to check their vitals and take swabs. Meals arrive in paper bags hung on the door handles three times a day. Fresh sheets and towels are delivered once a week. They never leave their rooms … at least, they’re not supposed to. “The manager told me that there was a party with three people just talking and drinking and having a good time,” Bernasconi says. “He was really pissed and sent everyone back to their rooms.”
Bernasconi visited several patients to shoot their portraits, keeping his distance and limiting talking. The images drip with ennui and anxiety. Everyone just wants to leave—and even more, to return to life as it was before the pandemic, back when Hotel Michelangelo was just a place people crashed after a fun day of seeing the sights.
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