10 Mar 2020

New Zealand man describes leaving Italy as nation goes into lockdown

5:27 pm on 10 March 2020

A New Zealander on a Contiki tour in Europe says there were no health checks at the Italian border as he left the country hours before the entire nation went into lockdown over the Covid-19 coronavirus outbreak.

Italy's popular tourist spots like the Colosseum in Rome are nearly deserted as a nationwide ban on public gatherings takes effect.

Italy's popular tourist spots like the Colosseum in Rome are nearly deserted as a nationwide ban on public gatherings takes effect. Photo: AFP or licensors

Today, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte said lockdown measures to contain the spread of the coronavirus would be extended across the whole of the country.

New Zealand man Jack Milner-George said the viral outbreak had affected his group's itinerary, and their planned two nights in Venice were canned in favour of an extra night in Rome.

They left the country by bus, driving straight through northern Italy without stopping.

But he said they were surprised there weren't more stringent checks at the border, or temperature tests.

"You know, it could have been a bus full of people who were infected and we're not - everyone is fine but no-one knows. Literally anyone could have gone through," he said.

While he wasn't worried, Milner-George said he was glad to be out of Italy.

"I just want to go back to New Zealand, I'm loving my trip but New Zealand is just where I want to be at the moment.

"I'm good, but there's other people on the trip that might have been freaking out a little bit and obviously people freaking out just causes more panic."

An airport staff directs passengers exiting an airplane that landed at Rome's Fiumicino airport from Paris on March 7, 2020 as part of body temperature screening procedures to prevent the spread of the new coronavirus.

An airport staff directs passengers exiting an airplane that landed at Rome's Fiumicino airport before the Covid-19 lockdown. Photo: AFP

The Ministry of Foreign Affairs and Trade (MFAT) has upgraded its travel advice for Italy, advising against all non-essential travel. MFAT also has 'do not travel' warnings in place for both China and Iran.

Within Italy, people are being told they should stay at home unless they had solid reasons related to work, health or other special needs. Commuting to work would still be allowed.

School and university closures have been extended until 3 April. The government also adopted a decree to stop all sporting activities, including Serie A football matches, the prime minister said.

'They take their dogs but leave their au pairs behind'

Camilla Strumia lives in Milan and told Checkpoint the severe measures were necessary.

"Chemists are open and only one person is allowed in at a time. Supermarkets are stocked with food and supplies but there's hardly anybody going to them and in general - around town and on the streets, there's not very many people.

"Pedestrians stand at traffic lights at least a metre away from each other - the energy's not amazing and in general people are very to themselves and suspicious of each other."

But she said not everyone was taking the outbreak seriously.

"You know everybody was running away from Milan on Saturday to go to southern Italy. I had an opportunity to get away from Lombardy and join my family in Rome and I decided not to because I wanted to sit at home and risk not having anyone to look after me because I could make everyone sick. It's about not being selfish."

New Plymouth teenager Emily Hutching-Gough is working as an au pair in Rome - the 19-year-old recently returned from a trip to Naples, which has spooked the family she's working for.

"They're a bit worried that I might have caught something when I was over there and so now for the next couple of weeks when I'm with the girl, I have to wear a face mask, gloves. We've extended the table so I can keep a metre distance and if I want something from the fridge I have to use gloves or ask and I have to use a different place for my dry foods as well."

Hutching-Gough said she was hopeful she would be able to stay in Italy - but was bracing herself for a return home if things got worse.

"I know people who actually have to leave anyway, because the families have decided to run away to their holiday homes in the countryside and wait for things to blow over, it's kind of wild - the families that flee take their dogs but leave their au pairs behind."

'It really is Zombieland'

Australian woman Rachel Beagley has lived in Bagno a Ripoli, near Florence, for about 10 years.

She owns a small shoe-making business, New Kid Footwear.

"Because I'm technically not meant to leave my commune, I'm not actually meant to leave Bagno a Ripoli, but I'm so close to Florence I should be able to get away with that, so I can go to work if I need to - not that we really have any customers - but I can still go there and do office stuff."

Beagley said the new restrictions would make visiting factories around Tuscany more difficult.

"I will have to have paperwork in my car basically, declaring what I'm doing and where I'm going and all the communes I need to go to."

Beagley said since the Covid-19 outbreak it had been eerily quiet in Florence - a popular tourist area.

"About a month ago, it was packed with people, there were so many tourists everywhere. Now there's nobody, it's so weird.

"It is kind of like a horror movie, it really is Zombieland."

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