Updated: Apr 6, 2020
I had already made my decision to return to Nuoro, Sardinia before Coronavirus entered into people’s daily vocabulary. I had been working as an EFL teacher on the mainland in Ferrara from October 2019 until 12th February 2020 and after a trip down to Rome with my partner we returned to the UK on 18th February. We only realised that Coronavirus was becoming a problem in northern Italy because we had seen footage of restricted movement and queues of set numbers of people outside supermarkets in some of the northern towns on the national news in Rome.
After spending a few weeks at home and having already purchased my airline ticket for Sardinia I didn’t think that the situation would affect the island. How wrong was I.
I spoke with my Sardinian colleague on Monday 2nd March from the UK and she informed me that there were only a few reported cases, literally 1 or 2 in a hospital in Cagliari. So we made the decision that I would come on 5th March as planned. At Stansted airport no one would have thought there was a widespread virus on the loose. The airport was packed with travellers going every which way. It only became more obvious when I queued up for my flight and noticed that there wasn’t the usual herd flocking to my gate. The plane was only half full but even so, there still seemed no real need for panic or major concern.
On arrival at Cagliari airport all passengers were screened by a masked medical officer using a non-contact scanner for signs of fever, which indicated a green light for normal body temperature. At this point we were allowed through to baggage reclaim and could continue with our onward journey.
In Nuoro life seemed to be continuing pretty much as I had remembered it from previous occasions. Although not a big place, people were out and about doing their business as usual, just keeping in mind a distance of at least 1 meter from others and to regularly wash hands. This must have been harder for the locals than myself as of course every greeting is met with 2 kisses and a hug. People have consciously withdrawn from physical contact.
Sardinia in restriction/lockdown/isolation/quarantine?
When I arrived on 5th March the closure of schools and universities on the island had just been announced, initially from 6th March until 15th March. However by 8th March a new decree was signed by the Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte not only to expand the previously 'locked down' quarantined areas of an already restricted northern Italy but to include 14 southern provinces in this restriction, with closures to many public places such as cinemas, theatres, museums, gyms and nightclubs although restaurants and cafés could operate within limited hours. It wasn't considered an "absolute ban" at this stage as people were still travelling for specific reasons, but did this expansion and restriction in movement affect ‘us’ on the island and if so how?
It was actually difficult to know what to do at this point. Should I self-quarantine for my own safety? Should I venture out, or go to another town? Should I still enjoy a cappuccino in one of the remaining open cafés? Should I meet up with friends? Should I meet students face to face? Should I consider going home? Could I get home? Once at home what should I do? Self-quarantine for 2 weeks because of where I had come from and hopefully not put loved ones at potential risk? So many unanswered questions but now that I was here I was prepared to stay and ready to work.
Decision taken. After a very pleasant Saturday by the sea with my friend/colleague and most of Sunday spent café hopping and starting my next ‘Sardinia for the Soul blog’ (no, not this one! but of previous travel experiences around the island – to come later), by late Monday 9th March it was a very different story. News had unfolded that the whole of the peninsula had been locked down in quarantine. The virus had now spread to other parts of Sardinia, in some cases by folk coming from the mainland wishing to stay in their holiday homes, testing positive on arrival and self-isolating (?) but also from researchers returning from the mainland to the local hospital in Nuoro and subsequently testing positive for Covid-19. This led unsurprisingly to other health workers in the hospital testing positive. Hopefully they are in isolation now. You couldn't make it up.
So now the situation has been brought ‘home’. It is not only a news story at a distance but actually a very real and disturbing health threat. As of late last night, the whole of Italy, yes that means us too, is in lockdown until at least the end of this month. Literally everything is closed from today 12th March except supermarkets, pharmacies and newsagents. A few randoms are walking about here with masks in situ and me with scarf over my mouth and nose but Nuoro has become even more of a ghost town than on a usual Sunday afternoon. What a shame as the weather is beautiful at the moment.
Nuoro, where the streets have no...people
It is now wholly obvious that we cannot socialise or work in the usual sense of the word. If we go out it must be with form in hand and for a very good reason ie: to buy food or go to a place of work, if indeed that place of work is still open. It is possible to go for a quick walk alone to catch a bit of fresh air and sun on the way to the supermarket of course.
Otherwise to keep the virus at bay, it is a case of ‘self-quarantine' but unlike the news which always paints an ugly picture, it’s not so bad. Luckily I have a nice apartment, food (and wine) in the fridge plus plenty of reading and writing material and some 1to1 lessons online. It’s a time of reflection and enforced rest. The main focus now is for everyone to STAY WELL until it (hopefully) passes and we can socialise once more.
In the meantime I will continue with my next blog, but first I must wash my hands...