The streets are empty, the schools are closed, shutters of restaurants and shops are down. Codogno, the so-called “Wuhan of Italy”, is a ghost town.
“It’s the new normal. Nobody can leave, nobody can enter,” said Antonio Bernocchi, a resident of Codogno, where the coronavirus outbreak in Italy originated days ago.
“It’s an entirely different situation: everything is closed, there are very few people out and about, and those who are out look at you in a strange, almost dazed way.”
Image: Antonio Bernocchi, a resident of coronavirus-hit Codogno in northern Italy, has been quarantined
A small town of 15,000 people, Codogno is where the virus first surfaced in the country when an Italian man in his late 30s became critically ill with COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus.
Along with another 10 towns in northern Italy, it has been in lockdown since the outbreak began, with police manning checkpoints and residents stocking up on food.
Italian newspapers call Codogno the “Wuhan of Italy” – referring to the Chinese city where the outbreak began last December. Others call the area a “red zone”.
But the 50,000 residents in this cluster of towns and villages in Italy’s affluent north are trying to adjust and go about their lives.
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“It happened suddenly, and the situation escalated quickly. In the space of 48 hours we found ourselves isolated and quarantined,” said Mr Bernocchi.
“First it was one town, then two, four, 10 – then we became a ‘red zone’.”
Mr Bernocchi spends time at home with his wife and two teenage children whose schools are closed, and tries to keep calm.
“I don’t want to panic, it’s not easy but that’s the situation we’re in – we can’t change it so we might as well manage it,” he said.
Theatres and cinemas are closed. Even the most cherished Italian traditions, such as Sunday mass or football games, have been called off.
“I have decided to suspend all masses. We have become a ghost town,” Iginio Passerini, parish priest in Codogno, told the Italian press in the aftermath of the outbreak.
Italy now has the biggest number of COVID-19 cases outside of Asia. So far, more than 320 cases have been confirmed and at least 10 people have died – all of them elderly people suffering from other conditions.
The British government updated its travel advice to say anyone returning to the UK from northern Italy’s quarantined towns must self-isolate, even if they don’t show symptoms.
Many residents are barricaded inside their houses, just trying to get enough food and keeping distance from one another.
Image: Streets of Codogno deserted of people on Saturday morning
Image: Codogno has been put in quarantine for two weeks
Shops are closed – though some are serving customers by passing items through windows, others are only allowing two people at a time to limit the risk of contagion.
Codogno’s market, which is held twice a week in the town’s biggest piazza, has been called off.
Supermarkets are now allowed to open a few hours a day, and any espresso bar that wants to stay open must observe a curfew of 6pm, said Mr Bernocchi – though none have opened yet.
Mr Bernocchi said at supermarkets he had seen people filling up their trolleys “as though we were in a war”, adding: “Let’s say they got a bit carried away. A bit of panic is understandable at first.”
Italy has imposed draconian measures, but critics say it’s too late. The country is now struggling to contain the outbreak as it extends beyond the north – with two cases confirmed in Tuscany and one in Palermo, Sicily.
In another of the quarantined towns, Casalpusterlengo, just a few kilometres away from Codogno, residents are finding new ways to cope.
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Leyla Bicer, a pharmacist in the town, has kept up her job by wearing a mask and rubber gloves – and serving customers who stay just outside a door left ajar.
“People ask for the medication they’re on, then they ask for masks, antibacterial gel, which has run out, and gloves, which are starting to run low,” she said.
Her husband, who works at a construction company, had to stay at home, and the nursery of the couple’s twin daughters – aged two-and-a-half – is closed.
“That’s the hardest part, the kids whose schools are closed,” she told Sky News. “We are lucky because the grandparents are also inside the ‘red zone’, so we take turns.”
Ms Bicer says her routine has changed.
“If I go out, I’ll pull a scarf over my face. When I buy groceries, I don’t buy fresh produce as much, but I stock up, and I never go with my daughters. Plus I avoid any crowded areas.”
She says the worst thing is not being able to leave the village.
“We are used to going out, this is a small town, plus everything is closed,” she says.
“But on the upside, we have all been forced to slow down – spend time with our children, talk, enjoy what’s good in life.”
Source : Sky News