Italy has been the European country first struck and most heavily affected by COVID-19. Exploring the outbreak’s impact on the migration reception system in Bologna, Emilia-Romagna region, we show how anthropological tools have been applied to mitigate public health misunderstandings and the effects of legislative measures among vulnerable mothers, asylum seekers, and refugees. Following a description of the legal horizon and migrant reception systems, we explore the gaps in representations of COVID-19 containment measures. By observing the underlying structures of social inequality and the relationship between individual/social/political bodies, this essay offers an ethnographically grounded analysis. It investigates how the outbreak has been experienced and represented by vulnerable migrants—diseased adult men, sex trafficked, and mothers migrants—living in reception structures. Although their experiences differ with gender, age, and material conditions, they all show what is at stake: the cultural diffraction of disease representations and symbolic meanings according to a visible/invisible conceptualization in particular institutional forms. Monitoring the social pandemic and local response to COVID-19, we shed light on the reconfiguring of sociocultural beliefs and people’s lived experience of containment measures, quarantine, and prescribed behaviors.

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