‘I was called a virus’: Singaporean living in Italy speaks of anxiety as nationwide lockdown begins

‘I was called a virus’: Singaporean living in Italy speaks of anxiety as nationwide lockdown begins

Florence landmark Italy
People walk outside the Santa Maria del Fiore (Duomo di Firenze) Cathedral in Florence. (Photo: AFP)

SINGAPORE: As Italy went into a nationwide lockdown, a Singaporean studying in Florence shared his experience of dealing with the COVID-19 outbreak in the country.  

“There’s a lot of anxiety going on in Florence,” Mr James Khoo told CNA, as the unprecedented nationwide measures to curtail the spread of the disease were enforced on Tuesday (Mar 10).

Unlike the northern regions of Italy, Tuscany, where Florence is, only went into lockdown mode on Tuesday. However, the 32-year-old Singaporean's concerns over the outbreak began long before that.

“I’m very frightened about the racism against Asian people and it has been increasingly tense," he said. 

“I was called a ‘virus’ on the street by some (French-speaking) tourists," he added, saying he felt irritated at the ignorance.

READ: Singaporean student in London says he was assaulted after reacting to COVID-19 comments

Mr Khoo, who is diabetic, also has other concerns regarding logistics and over his health. 

He explained that a previous appointment to see a doctor was cancelled, and he was now concerned that he might have to fork out more to see a private specialist. 

The ongoing outbreak has also made it harder for him to get supplies. 

“If you go to pharmacies, you can’t find any surgical masks and some supermarkets have run out of toiletries,” he said. 

“I’ve gone out to every single pharmacy in town – in the city centre and in the suburbs." 

He added: “In terms of wanting to go and buy food, it could also become a problem. I’m sure the (lockdown) will affect the farmers’ market which is generally cheaper.”

READ: COVID-19: All of Italy to be placed under lockdown, says PM

Florence hospital covid-19
A picture taken on Feb 25, 2020 shows a pre-triage medical tent in front of Santa Maria Nuova Hospital in Florence as Tuscany reported its first two cases of COVID-19. (Photo: AFP)


"WHY MUST I JEOPARDISE MY HEALTH?"

Italy closed all schools and universities until Mar 15, which after the latest announcement on new measures has been extended until Apr 3. 

But Mr Khoo's institution still runs lessons.

“I’ve told the owner of the school I don’t feel safe,” he said, explaining that his Italian language course comprised of private classes conducted in groups. 

"I went to my private lesson last week, but the teachers were insisting the virus only affects old people, and not the young."

He eventually made the decision to stop going for classes. “Why must I jeopardise my health?” he said.

Mr Khoo said that he was considering heading to another European country to wait out the lockdown in Italy if things get out of hand - or even return to Singapore.  

"A lot of Singaporeans I know are leaving for other European countries. For the current lockdown, we aren’t sure what to do next," he said, adding he was currently waiting on more information from Singapore authorities.

“A lot of foreign students are just leaving the country."

Mr Khoo added: "I don’t think things are going to improve in Italy because measures were introduced quite late. There is no sense of organisation." 

A closed bar in Venice, as large parts of northern Italy go into lockdown to prevent the spread of
A closed bar in Venice, as large parts of northern Italy go into lockdown to prevent the spread of the virus. (Photo: AFP/Andrea Pattaro) 

READ: Italy has highest COVID-19 fatalities after China as death toll triples

PM ANNOUNCES LOCKDOWN 

On Monday night, Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte declared “all movement across the country" was to be avoided unless it was for work, reasons of necessity or health reasons.

Previous measures like quarantines and school closures did not help contain the spread of the virus in Italy - the worst affected European country. 

"It is prohibited to gather in and outside bars open to the public ... We cannot allow ourselves any more these occasions of meeting, which become occasions of contagion," said Mr Conte.

The death toll in Italy is nearly at 500, with almost 10,000 confirmed cases.

The disease, which originated in the Chinese city of Wuhan, has spread to more than 100 countries and infected tens of thousands of people around the world.

The World Health Organization warned on Monday there was now a "very real" threat that the new coronavirus outbreak will become a pandemic, but stressed the virus could still be controlled.

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Source: CNA/aa(rw)

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