Mon, 01 Jun 2020

COVID-19 Diaries: Arriving Home to a Totally Changed Rome

Voice of America
27 Mar 2020, 23:05 GMT+10

ROME - We made it home to Italy, just north of Rome, last Friday and that's when our two-week quarantine began.

As soon as we arrived, we had to declare to the local health authorities that we understood the rules -- we were to stay indoors and not leave the house, not even for food. All I can say is thank goodness home deliveries are working!

It took my 18-year-old twin sons and me an entire day to get home from England. We are only too aware that we were very lucky; three days earlier the EU had announced that travel into the Schengen area was halted for 30 days, with the only exception for returning long-time residents.

From London Heathrow airport, we flew to Dusseldorf, Germany, to catch a completely booked connecting flight to Rome. Many on our initial flight were university students headed for Milan who discovered their connecting flight had been cancelled. No one told them what they should do. In fact, Dusseldorf airport was deserted and our flight to Rome was one of only a handful that had not been cancelled.

My sons study in the south of England and I had gone there to attend a parents-teacher evening on Feb. 27. At that time, Italy had locked down 11 towns in the north due to the COVID-19 outbreak. I could not have known that soon that would be the fate of the whole of Italy.

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Arriving home was a shock, both for me and my sons. We were coming from England where students were still going to school until Friday, and it had been business as usual at pubs, restaurants and stores. Across Italy, schools had closed on March 4 and by March 10 the entire country was locked down. It was the new Wuhan, with the numbers of infected and dead rising steadily, and hospitals, particularly in the north, struggling to deal with the emergency.

After our Eurowings flight landed, we entered Terminal 3 at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Uniformed officers shouted at us to keep a distance from each other, and we all were told to stand in line so our temperatures could be taken. The next line was to fill out a form that declared where we were coming from and where we were going. It included a pledge to go into isolation for two weeks.

Finally, we could go and collect our suitcases in what was another deserted airport terminal. I had never seen Rome airport so empty, with all its shops closed. I had made sure that a car with driver was waiting for us. As we were driven on Rome's notoriously busy ring road, we could not believe how few cars we passed.

As we drove into town, there were many police roadblocks, but no one stopped us. We had to collect some keys at one address, pick up some things for the kids somewhere else and finally pick up my car to drive home. We were able to achieve all that driving through a spectral Rome.

We saw virtually no people or cars - a surreal scene for residents long accustomed to Rome's unbearable traffic with its honking cars and scooters whizzing by left and right. It dawned on us very quickly there would be no freedom of movement for any of us; our lives would be radically different.

We were exhausted but happy to get home at 11 pm. We went to bed knowing our lives in Italy were not going to be anything like what we knew in the past. And the next morning that reality hit us -- no leaving the house, no food except what was left in the elevator of our building for us, no speaking with anyone except on the phone or WhatsApp. No going for a walk, no going to the gym, no meeting up with friends. Outside, cafes, restaurants and shops all were closed.

The weather at this time of the year is beautiful and we are allowed out on our terrace of course. But when we look outside we see no one; everyone is locked up at home in self-isolation. The rare person who walks by heading to buy food is wearing a protective mask and gloves. The boys and I look at each other and ask ourselves a question no one is able to answer: How long is this going to last?

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