BY KIERAN O’MAHONY and EMMA CONNOLLY
A SKIBBEREEN woman remains in lockdown in Northern Italy which has so far claimed 19 coronavirus victims, and climbing.
And a China-based Union Hall woman says there’s been a confirmed case of the virus just five minutes from where she lives.
Emer Downing, a teacher in the tourist town of Bergamo, which is in the virus-stricken district of Lombardy, has just returned to her home in Italy from Cork.
‘Leaving Italy to spend the mid-term break in my native West Cork, there was a low level of risk. Just a handful of passengers travelling out of Italy were wearing surgical masks,’ Emer told The Southern Star.
‘At passport control on my return last Thursday night, security staff, dressed head to toe in protective clothing, took our temperature by scanning our foreheads with infrared thermometers.’
On Friday, news broke of the first two deaths of patients in Italy with COVID-19. ‘That evening, we went to see Munster rugby take on and beat one of Italy’s two PRO-14 teams, Zebre, in Milan, about 100km from Codogno, the town at the centre of the crisis where Italy’s first case of coronavirus was confirmed.
‘Had this match been due to take place just two days later,’ she said, ‘it would have been cancelled, as the Italian government issued a directive the very next day banning all sporting events in the Lombardy and Veneto regions from Sunday. However, that night, there was no sense of fear in that stadium and not a protective mask or glove in sight.
‘Carnival celebrations were cancelled, too, although in Bergamo, where I live, the celebrations took place as normal on Sunday. However, with the number of people testing positive for the coronavirus, people finally started to take it more seriously.
‘Facemasks and hand-sanitisers quickly sold out. Supermarkets became very busy and shelves emptied, with people stocking up in preparation for a possible lockdown.
She said all schools are closed for at least seven days. ‘Cafés are permitted to open until 6pm. All sporting events have been cancelled. Cinemas and museums have been ordered to close. Supermarkets and restaurants are allowed to stay open and public transport is running with staff wearing masks. As a primary school teacher in a private school, I have been asked to work from home this week and we are providing digital lessons for our students,’ she added.
Meanwhile, Union Hall’s Katie Hayes, her sister Hayley and their mum Cathy are now confined to their district of Harbin in China, and are spending most of their time indoors in their apartment.
‘The most important thing now is that our complex doesn’t get the virus because if that happens, we won’t be able to leave and they will have to bring food and water to our doors,’ said Katie. ‘Harbin is now one of the top cities in China with confirmed cases and consequently they now have locked down districts there, and we can’t leave or enter any other districts.’
Her work has stopped and she won’t get paid for the month of March and they spend most of their time stuck in their apartment with their cats and dogs. Her brother had been due to visit them this month, but that is now cancelled.
‘We really want to go home but we can’t because leaving our animals is not an option. But we are worried now, with it spreading all around Europe, that going home might not even be safe.’