LIKE footballers and supporters all over the world, Marco Negri is looking forward to a time in the future when the coronavirus pandemic has passed, life has returned to normal and matches can be both played and attended once again.

“Hopefully we can come back and cheer for the Rangers and do whatever we else we were doing before this happened in a month, a couple of months, whenever,” the former Ibrox striker said yesterday.

Yet, having witnessed first hand the devastation caused by Covid-19 in his native Italy in recent weeks, Negri appreciates the indefinite shutdown of the game he loves and a temporary loss of liberty are small sacrifices to make.

His homeland has been country worst affected by the outbreak on the planet. Over 16 million people have been placed in enforced quarantine in their homes by the government this month in a desperate attempt to halt its spread. But the death toll rose above the 6,000 mark earlier this week.

The indiscriminate loss of life and untold suffering which he has witnessed in harrowing television news reports every day have driven home to Negri that being confined to his house with his wife and teenage daughter is both necessary and important.

He understands that everything possible must be done if the deadly coronavirus is to be brought under control and supports the radical measures wholeheartedly.

“The situation is very tough,” he said. “We had 750 deaths yesterday in Italy. That is a big, big number. I live in Bologna in the north of Italy around an hour from Milan, which is a red zone. Every day we have five to 10 deaths here.

“We watch the TV. In Bergamo and Brescia close to Milan we don’t have any more places in the cemeteries to put all the dead. The crematoriums can’t cope. The military have taken bodies away to burn them.

“Another very, very sad thing is that if your mother or father or your grandmother or your grandfather is sick in hospital on machines to help them breathe you can’t leave your home to comfort or speak to them.

“We have thousands of doctors and nurses and pharmacists who have dedicated their lives to saving other people. A lot of them have been infected, a lot of them have died. This is happening in Italy. I really hope it doesn’t happen in your country.”

Negri continued: “There are a lot of restrictions here. We can only go out for food for an hour a day and only by ourselves. It is completely locked down. But that is the way we can fight the virus. I don’t think it’s a big thing for the normal people, for lucky people, to stay at home.

“So many people are contagious. A lot of people are contagious and don’t have the symptoms. If they go out they can infect other people, including older people, people who have heart problems or diabetes.

“I fully understand the situation. If I can do just a small thing to help – which is to stay at home, to stay safe – then I will. It is a tough rule, but it is a simple rule, don’t take a risk."

Many Italian footballers have contracted coronavirus, including the legendary AC Milan and Italy defender Paolo Maldini. Negri, who played for Serie A clubs Cagliari, Udinese and Perugia as well as Rangers and faced “Il Capitano” on many occasions, believes that shows nobody, no matter what their age or medical condition, is safe.

“It is not a flu, it is more than a flu,” he said. “It is something much worse. Paolo Maldini has been infected. He has tested positive for coronavirus. He spoke to the newspapers about how tough it has been. He had four or five days of high, high fever, a lot of coughing. He is a strong, healthy man.”

One theory put forward by scientists for the high death toll in Italy is the ageing population there. Negri is naturally concerned for the wellbeing of his elderly mother, who is confined to her home in Genoa around 200 miles away.

“I keep in touch with phone calls,” he said. “I am just hoping for some good news. She is okay. She has been receiving help from the people who live around her. She is 80 and was due to get a knee transplant. Now that has been postponed. But she understands she has to stay home.

“She grew up in the post-war generation. Our parents and our grandparents went through a war. We are just being asked to stay home. There is a big difference. I don’t see any problem."

The World Health Organisation has expressed a belief that coronavirus is set to a peak in Italy and Negri is praying along with all of his compatriots that their calculations are correct.

“It looks like in the next few days the curve will go down, the peak will be reached maybe today or tomorrow," he said. "We hope the lockdown is working. Freedom is the best thing we have got in the world. But 14 days, maybe a month, of staying home, staying safe, is a small price to pay.

“I know freedom is very nice. But the sooner everybody understands what we have to do the sooner we can return to our everyday lives, to football, to the Old Firm, to supporting Rangers. If we have enough positive people we can stop this.”