Bundaberg couple speak of life in quarantine in Italy
ITALY has always been a place where people's hearts are as full as their bellies, but now hearts are broken in a country full of fear.
After working in education for the last four decades, Bundaberg locals Sue Giarola and her husband John planned a well-deserved overseas holiday.
The couple were filled with excitement, as they embarked on what they had anticipated to be a three-month-long stay in Sicily, Italy.
But as they said goodbye to loved ones and eagerly passed through customs in Rome, on March 2, little did they know what lay ahead.
"To ensure that we had time to explore and relax, we rented a flat in Ortigia (Syracuse on the south east of Sicily) then would go onto Palermo (north east) for the last leg of our holiday," Ms Giarola said.
"Everything appeared normal … a few fellow travellers were wearing masks but no precautions were evident as we passed through customs and travelled south to Sicily by train."
For the next three days, the pair visited Sicily's second largest city, Catania, where they discovered all schools and universities were closed, as a precaution for coronavirus.
"Life seemed normal as we visited the city's famous landmarks including fish markets, fruit and vegetable markets and historical churches and buildings," Ms Giarola said.
"We finally arrived at our first home-away-from-home in Ortigia, a small UNESCO World Heritage town and quintessential Italian town, complete with its cobblestone streets, flower boxes in windows, spectacular palazzos and churches."
But things quickly changed for the worst, when the evening news began broadcasting scenes of devastation and staggering death tolls, caused by the virus.
On March 9, the couple received confirmation from their neighbour, who is an air traffic controller, that Italy was moving into lockdown with restrictions effective immediately.
"With a sinking feeling, we checked the Ministry of Health website and saw all flights were going to be suspended and the borders closed," Ms Giarola said.
"The opportunity to catch a flight home was very small and we were caught unawares, as were many across the country."
Tougher restrictions were implemented days later, with essential services, food outlets and pharmacies being the only remaining traders.
As police continue to patrol the streets, residents and tourists have been advised to remain indoors and with only one person from each household permitted to collect groceries.
Italy has confirmed more than 132,500 cases of coronavirus, with more than 16,500 deaths.
Understandably, the Bundaberg couple have growing concerns.
"We know we are far safer to remain here than attempt to travel home, (but) emotionally it is a bit of a roller coaster," Ms Giarola said.
"The uncertainty of the situation is always in the back of your mind, sometimes it is a bit overwhelming, not only for us, but also for everyone at home."
Last week it was announced that Italy would remain in lockdown until April 13, making it six long weeks full of anxiety and emotions.
"While we are disappointed, we wholeheartedly support the Italian government in their attempts to contain the virus," Ms Giarola said.
"Italian people are understandably concerned for their short and long term future but the catch phrase across the country is 'andra tutto bene' which translates 'everything will be fine.'"
The couple are continuing to remain positive and are filling the days by reading, doing crosswords, playing Rummikub and watching Netflix, as they patiently wait for further updates.