Irish in Italy on coronavirus: ‘The city is in a bit of panic – the streets are empty’

Readers in Milan and Venice on how life has changed since the Covid-19 outbreak

Italy has been the hardest hit nation by the Covid-19 coronavirus in Europe, with more than 280 people testing positive and seven people having died. On Tuesday, Italian authorities reported a woman had tested positive for the contagious illness in Sicily as the country struggles to prevent the outbreak spreading from its origin in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto. We asked Irish people living in Italy what life is like living in an area affected by the virus.

John McDermott: ‘The thought of using public transport scares me’

Overall, I’ve lived in Italy for almost five years. I’ve been following the development of coronavirus worldwide for some weeks, so when on Friday I read the news that many cases had been reported in Lombardia, not far from Milan, I was immediately worried. Especially because Milan is a lot like Dublin, in the sense that many people commute from all around the city, far and wide, to work and study in Milan. From Friday evening I began purchasing provisions from my local supermarkets, and by Sunday morning, before any panic had set in, I had already organised my own supplies. People began to panic from Sunday evening, when many supermarket shelves began to empty, especially of nonperishable foods like pasta, rice and any form of tinned food. Still water is completely sold out. I had previously purchased 24 litres for myself, so I am well prepared at least.

Last night I contacted my father to source some face masks and send them to me via DHL, as they have completely disappeared here in Milan. Simple hand sanitisers are almost impossible to find, too, and are being sold for as much as €12 for a 100ml bottle.

My workplace has invited anybody who can work from home to do so for the rest of this week. This is something that has given me some form of relief, because the thought of using public transport or even being in an office environment and canteen environment for lunch, with people who are coming to Milan from all around the provinces and hinterland, scares me. There really is no guarantee any longer. Life in Milan is more or less carrying on as normal, though, today. I visited my local supermarket this morning, and the situation has not improved much. Fruit and vegetables were back in supply, at least. There was a genuine mood of anxiety among shoppers.


Aoife: ‘I know it’s serious of course, but people have gone over the top’

I've lived in Milan for 22 years, and I'm over and back to Dublin regularly. I was on an Aer Lingus flight to Milan on Saturday. Three people left the plane shortly before it took off, apparently due to coronavirus fears. On arrival in Italy a machine manned by medical staff scanned us for temperature – they have been doing that in Milan for 10 days or more. Hospitals in Milan are advising people who think they might have the virus to stay away, and instead to stay indoors and wait until a testing crew calls to them. If they are found to have the virus, they and anyone they live with must be isolated for 40 days. Milan hasn't quite shut down but with schools closed, many people are leaving the city for the country or the sea, and enjoying the fabulous weather. My building has been emptied of children. Compared to the Irish, Italians can be a bit hypochondriac anyway, but they're in a frenzy now. I know it's serious of course, but people have gone over the top. You can't get in to the supermarkets.

Aisling Sullivan: ‘All pharmacies have sold out of face masks and hand sanitiser’

I live in Milan. I teach for the University of Milan – Università degli Studi di Milano – which has been closed for the week, so all my lessons have been cancelled. My business clients are all adopting smart working, so we are using Skype rather than face to face meetings.

All the pharmacies have sold out of face masks and hand sanitiser. There has also been a lot of stockpiling of food over the past few days. I went to our local supermarket this morning, and there was nothing left on some of the shelves. Some people are not leaving their homes, while others are going about business as usual. All the main sightseeing attractions in the city have been closed, and all public events cancelled.

We are lucky to have a home in Tuscany, so we are planning to leave Milan and stay there until we know that everything is back to normal.

Valerie O’Hanlon: ‘The mood is somber and Venice almost like a ghost town’

The mood is somber at the moment and Venice almost like a ghost town where once-busy streets, shops, cafes restaurants are empty. All businesses are feeling the pinch, especially with the cancellation of the annual carnival. These decisions will and have caused inconvenience and controversy, but the Veneto region must be severe in the face of the spread of the coronavirus.

My family and I are very aware of the virus and taking all measures to stay safe. We, along with most locals, are wearing masks, and leave the house only for daily essentials. Shops, cafes and restaurants are deserted, as many are staying indoors. Our rental apartments have been affected with many cancellations.

We haven’t taken any precautions, but we’re using common sense by washing hands, having no physical contact with friends (which is proving difficult for Venetian friends, as they greet with two kisses, one on each cheek) and wearing masks if running to the local shop. As of yet we have had no restrictions on entering anywhere, but some tourist attractions are closed to the public.

Many schools and universities are closed throughout the Veneto region until March 2nd. The annual carnival has been cancelled, and there has been the closure of many museums, large places of worship and shopping centres. Anyone who enters the Veneto region after travelling to areas with risk has the obligation to communicate to the local health authority responsible for the territory. This order was co-signed between the Veneto region and the ministry of health earlier this week.

Allison Colton: ‘We’re very much in a state of limbo’

The atmosphere in Milan is very strange. Schools are closed, and people are being encouraged to work from home, so there’s almost a pre-holiday feel about the place. At the same time we’re being bombarded with reports of new cases and sadly, new fatalities.

I work in a training centre, and I spent most of the day on the phone, postponing courses without having any date to reschedule to. We’re very much in a state of limbo, and I found myself refreshing the news pages more often than the rational part of my brain would have wanted me to.

Tomorrow more people will be smart, working from home, so the city will be even more apocalyptic. I’ll be one of those people, and I can’t deny that I’m relieved to not have to take public trasport tomorrow.

Laurence Fogarty: ‘The students might well be kept out of school for a while yet’

I live in the Lombardy region, which is affected by the coronavirus. The situation is rapidly evolving. Until last Thursday, the coronavirus was a bit far away, namely in China, then suddenly cases were discovered in Italy. In the space of five days the cases here have reached more than 150.

We have two school-going daughters, but school is closed for at least this week. My wife is a teacher, so she is compulsorily at home as well. It is a situation I’m not used to in that sense, having that much company around. I’m self-employed as a translator, and work from home, so am probably a little less affected than commuters to Milan, for example. We’re 20 minutes by train from Milan, in Magenta. (Yes, that is the colour on one of your printer cartridges – another story).

The most direct effect on me, and which is annoying, is that my swimming pool has been closed under a health provision signed by the region's governor yesterday, so cannot have my regular swim at least for a bit. Also, I've booked to go to a translation conference in Germany at end of April, but I am beginning to have doubts about the feasibility of this event in view of the virus.

Our eldest is doing the Italian equivalent of the Leaving in June, but who knows what will happen as of now. The students might well be kept out of school for a while yet.

Deirdre Doyle: ‘It is impossible to buy bottled water today, but what is wrong with the tap water?’

I live in Milan, and the city seems to be in a bit of a panic right now, but bear in mind that the Italian government is determined to take every possible precaution to avoid the virus spreading and the health service is very good in Lombardy.

It may seem a bit draconian, but personally I appreciate it. I believe that if we take the recommended precautions and continue our lives as usual, we should be as safe as possible. Of course some people may exaggerate – it is impossible to buy bottled water today in the Fair area, but what is wrong with the tap water? Let’s see how the week develops.

Hugo McCafferty: ‘Who knows how it will play out?’

I'm living in the area affected by the coronavirus. I'm leaving Lombardia today, as I believe there's a full lockdown on the way. I live in Lecco, by Lake Como, but work in Milan. School and office closed for the week, so I decided to escape Lombardy and head to Tuscany for a few days to see how it all pans out. Just arrived this evening. Who knows how it will play out? Italy somehow got blindsided by this cluster outbreak. They'll have to take decisive action, which could be a total lockdown in the region.