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Coronavirus in Italy: ‘Stringent’ rules, ‘confusion’ as residents describe lockdown

COVID-19: 16 million people under lockdown in Italy
COVID-19: 16 million people under lockdown in Italy.

For Angelo Marrocco, daily life in a small town called Albiate near Milan in Italy has changed — but not by much — since the country decreed the northern region into lockdown over coronavirus fears this weekend.

“Let’s put it this way,” he said. “We have these stringent rules. But it’s very weird because if you are local and you don’t move around, you don’t really see that there is a big change.”

The 46-year-old does note that the significant changes are that he will begin to work from home while his two daughters, aged 16 and 12, continue studying from home.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: 16 million people locked down as Italy reports 7,300 infections

“We are trying to reduce the contact as much as possible for the next few weeks just to try and slow down the contagion rate,” he said.

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Aside from an initial run to the grocery stores last month and people avoiding physical contact by reducing handshakes, Marrocco hasn’t seen other people react too strongly to the recent government decree that has locked down more than 16 million people in regions for close to a month.

“Since Saturday night, we have had these new rules that are much more restrictive,” he said.

“And so this is basically you can not leave the area, the region, without a serious reason to leave. And this is causing a little bit of frustration. But to be fair, it’s not too restrictive because we are in a very large area anyway.”

Seniors fear Italy flight, senior tour company denies flexibility
Seniors fear Italy flight, senior tour company denies flexibility

Dual Canadian-Italian citizen Margot Bellani painted a different scene. From her current residence in Cuneo, a two-hour drive from Milan near the country’s northwestern border, she said people are experiencing a “lot of confusion.”

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“People are freaking out,” she said in an interview with Global News.

“They are really upset because there are a lot of unknowns. That’s the problem.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus: Pope cancels public appearances to avoid crowds amid COVID-19 outbreak

The new restrictions came into place after mass testing revealed more than 7,300 COVID-19 cases in Italy — more cases of the novel coronavirus than any country but China, which is currently seeing the virus retreat. Italy has seen 366 deaths as of Sunday.

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Travel Canada has issued an advisory urging Canadians to “avoid non-essential travel” to northern Italy due to the spread of the virus.

The restrictions affect a large region in northern Italy. Weddings, museums, movie theatres and shopping malls were all impacted as confusion reigned after the quarantine was announced, with residents and tourists from Venice to Milan trying to figure out how and when the new measures would be implemented. The Associated Press reported travellers on standing-room-only trains passing around hand sanitizer and covering their faces with scarves.

COVID-19: 16 million people under lockdown in Italy
COVID-19: 16 million people under lockdown in Italy

Bellani said one of her friends who owns a hotel has seen all their bookings cancelled.

“I think the economic repercussions are going to be huge,” she said.

She also finds the rules, which impact bars and restaurants, aren’t being observed by everyone in the same way. Eateries are now expected to keep patrons a metre away from each other.

“I think at this point it would have been smarter for the government to say, ‘OK, we’re closing everything. Don’t leave your house because now there’s nothing you can do,’” Bellani said.

READ MORE: Coronavirus: China sees lowest number of cases within single day since count began

The restrictions, meant to encourage social distancing, have resulted in the occasional socially awkward situations. Marrocco said he was getting into an elevator and offered to hold it for a colleague, who then declined.

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“She said, ‘Oh, no, that would be too crowded, the two of us in the elevator,’” he said. “And that’s strange, but at the end of the day, it’s correct.”

He remains hopeful that the restrictions, in place till early April for now, will bring down the number of new cases cropping up in Italy.

“I think that it’s a bit awkward as a situation, but it will be only temporary,” he said. “We’ve seen in China that these measures worked.”

While he, his wife, and his two daughters are avoiding social gatherings, they do go outside for a stroll. His children are keeping up with their friends online. The local supermarket doesn’t have empty shelves, he said.

How the coronavirus is affecting Italy
How the coronavirus is affecting Italy

The impact on tourism is clear though. The Associated Press reported Italy is shutting down all museums and archaeological sites, even those far from the lockdown zone. As of Sunday, tourists in the region, including those from overseas, were free to head home, the Italian transport ministry said, noting that airports and train stations were open.

“Milan is completely empty at this stage,” Marrocco said. “The museums are closed, cinemas are closed, theaters are closed … I’ve heard of a lot of cancellations.”

It’s a “bit strange” for his country, since Italy “lives on tourism.”

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“But in the meantime, as I said, if it’s required, it’s required, there is nothing that we can do.”

— With files by The Associated Press, Global News reporter Mike Drolet