AN AMERICAN Mum on lockdown in her home in coronavirus-stricken Italy has described what it's like to live under a nationwide quarantine.
Sarah Marder, 55, told The Sun that the virus-hit country's tight restrictions on travel and public gatherings, in place since Sunday, have turned her life upside down.
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However, she also praised the reaction of the Italian public to the new rules, which now mean that by law citizens can only leave their homes for essential reasons.
Coronavirus – or specifically, Covid-19, the disease it causes – has now been declared a global pandemic following more than 4,600 deaths and 126,000 infections worldwide.
Italy is Europe's worst-hit country, with 827 people killed and more than 12,000 confirmed cases.
It suffered its highest daily death toll on Wednesday, losing 196 to the disease. Just three weeks ago, the country had three confirmed cases.
To combat the spread of the disease, vast swathes of northern Italy were quarantined over the weekend, including Lombardy, the province containing Milan, where Sarah has lived for 32 years.
Schools, gyms, museums, nightclubs and other venues have since been closed across the whole country, with citizens requiring special permission to travel between cities.
"In our home, none of us have social engagements," Sarah, who lives with two of her daughters, aged 14 and 24, told The Sun.
"We have to fill in a form if we're outside to declare why we've left home. We can't go to the gym, cafes, bars and most shops.
Italy on lockdown
- Italians told to stay home and “limit social contact as much as possible”
- All public events banned, with sporting matches including Serie A games suspended
- Weddings and funerals cancelled, with cinemas, gyms and pubs closed
- Travel only allowed for “urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies or health reasons”
- Public and private companies encouraged to put their employees on leave
- Mortgage payments suspended, with debt moratoriums offered to small firms and households
"On Sunday, my daughter and her friends had happy hour drinks over Skype," the Kansas native continued.
"You try to hunker down and be relaxed, but it's difficult at times because life has turned upside down."
Italy has only been under quarantine for a few days, but already experts have predicted that similar measures will soon be in place in other European countries.
Francois Balloux, of the University College London Genetics Institute, said earlier this week that the UK may have to use a lockdown strategy "similar" to the one in Italy.
He said: "The trajectory in the UK is so far roughly comparable to the one in northern Italy, but with the epidemic [there] two to three weeks ahead of the situation [here].
"It is possible that a lockdown strategy similar to the one imposed in northern Italy may be adopted by the UK. The Covid-19 epidemic cannot be contained any more."
There is method to the madness, though: Lockdowns in China have helped the numbers of deaths and new infections plummet in recent weeks.
And despite the severity of the restrictions in Italy, Sarah says the Italian public have reacted maturely to the quarantine.
"There are obviously exceptions to the rule who have behaved badly, but it's incredible how quickly people have organised themselves to apply to the rules," the mother-of-four said.
"I’ve been filled with admiration for the way it’s been handled in Italy, and intense gratitude to doctors and all medical staff who are making heroic efforts to fix this."
The quarantine means Sarah and her family only take to the streets of Milan once a day to go to the shops.
Only grocery stores and pharmacies remain open in a city home to 1.3million that at times feels like a "ghost town".
With Sarah and her daughters spending most of their time at home – offices and schools are also closed – filling the evenings has proved tricky at times.
"It’s definitely been a challenge," Sarah, who works as a documentary filmmaker, told The Sun. "We've been playing trivial pursuit, which we normally don’t do.
"We've also been exercising at home more, and trying new recipes. They’re just nice ways to use the time up.
"But it’s really not going to be easy, cabin fever can creep in and it's hard to keep up spirits."
The Italian subway system is largely empty during the day
Having spent a few days in quarantine, Sarah has some sage advice for anyone facing the prospect of a few weeks hunkered down at home.
"It's worth thinking through what you would do with your time in the event of a lockdown," she said.
"It's good to have lots of books or films on hand, for instance, and some board games at the ready.
"As best as possible, enjoy it. My friends are taking it as an opportunity to enjoy home life, clean out their closets, bake something nice, and spend some time with the family."
Covid-19 originated in the city of Wuhan, China, in December 2019 and has since travelled rapidly across the globe.
People can spread the virus to each other through close contact or bodily fluids.
An infection causes flu-like symptoms and is thought to kill about two per cent of cases – largely the elderly or people with pre-existing conditions.
In the UK, the disease has killed eight people and there are 460 confirmed cases.
Schools closures in Britain are expected as Boris Johnson is poised to move Britain to the "delay" phase of the coronavirus action plan.
Today, the Prime Minister will chair a meeting of the Cobra emergency committee and could advise on a ban on large gatherings.
It comes after flights from Europe to the US, excluding the UK and Ireland, were suspended beginning today due to the coronavirus crisis.
US President Donald Trump announced the unprecedented move hours after the World Health Organization declared Covid-19 a global pandemic.
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