Quarantined in Europe’s COVID-19 epicenter


MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 9th of April, 2020. So glad you’re here with us today for The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher. Hey, good news, bad news?

REICHARD: I always prefer good news first.

EICHER: Right-o. Good news, I don’t have coronavirus symptoms.

REICHARD: But I’m hearing the bad news already.

EICHER: The sound you hear is the sound of strep, and I actually feel a lot better than I have in the last three or four days. Just sound worse.

Maybe I can perfect my impression of Dr. Anthony Fauci, famous for his daily briefings.

Try this…

FAUCI: It’s mitigation mitigation, mitigation. In fact, this is the minimal of what we should be doing. You know, everyone should be doing that. And everything on here, one way or the other, points to physical separation.

Mitigation, mitigation, mitigation.

[Laughs]

So, if you can live with this sound, we’ll just muddle through.

So, first up: voices from quarantine around the world, starting with Europe.

Italy’s first confirmed case of COVID-19 was January 31st, when two Chinese tourists in Rome tested positive. 

Italian officials quickly contained their own citizens when they returned from travels to China.

REICHARD: But when a man with no connection to China had to be hospitalized in February, doctors realized the illness had likely been spreading for weeks. By March 8th, all of Italy went under strict lockdown. 

WORLD’s Jenny Lind Schmitt spoke to families in Italy and two other European countries to find out what life’s been like for them.

JENNY LIND SCHMITT, REPORTER: Katie Duff-Domenici has lived in Italy for 21 years on the island of Sardinia. When authorities put the country under lockdown on March 9th, her daughter was still studying abroad in Canada. Italians didn’t take the restrictions seriously enough, so the government tightened them further. People now need a written reason to leave home. 

DOMENICI: It’s called autocertificazione It’s a self-declared certificated of why you’re out and where you’re going and what your business is. And if you don’t have it, the policemen who stopped you usually have a copy and they can help fill it out.

After her daughter made it home, the entire family had to completely quarantine for two weeks. They didn’t leave the house at all. Those restrictions have eased a bit, but there are still limits to what they can do. 

DOMENICI: We can go out for walks if we have dogs, we’re supposed to stay within 200 meters of our house. Or we’re allowed to go grocery shopping. One person from the family can go and shop. Or you can go to the pharmacy. Other than that we’re not really supposed to go out. 

Domenici’s in-laws live in the north of Italy, the region hit hardest by the coronavirus. Her 87-year old mother-in-law hasn’t left her apartment for almost six weeks. Another older relative died, presumably from the coronavirus.

DOMENICI: The worst part of it is, is not only can they not go, they can’t have a funeral, they don’t even know where her body is… because there have been so many deaths in Bergamo. 

Italian authorities are talking about reopening schools after the Easter break, but Domenici says locals are skeptical.

In Germany, officials recorded the first case of COVID-19 in late January. It was quickly contained. Then came the winter school break.

PAGE: Then we have the Faschungs holidays when everybody goes skiing.

Sharon Page lives a half hour west of Munich.

PAGE: And at that point there was no travel advisory or anything. So everybody went skiing, to Austria and Italy, and brought it back. And basically Ichgl has been a nightmare.

In the popular ski resort of Ishgl, Austria, a bartender came down with the virus and kept working. From that single case, hundreds of vacationers from across Europe brought the virus back to their own countries.

Germany closed its borders on March 16th. Four days later, the government sent everyone to confinement in their homes.

PAGE: I think most people have been following the rules, but at the beginning when it was first introduced and it was also a really nice weekend, a lot of people…they were having corona parties, they called them.

Wearing masks in public is not required, but Page says that may be coming.

PAGE: It may change soon, because Jena in the East, they’ve now said  you’ve got to go with a mask to the supermarket. [husband: And Austria too] And Austria as well.

Subways and busses are still running, but to lessen human contact, riders do not need a ticket.

PAGE: In Munich on the U-Bahns, they’ve actually not reduced them too much, so that people can spread out. Not like in London where they reduced the number and they were packed in like sardines. Here they’ve tried to keep the number of trains on so that people can try and distance in the U-bahn, which is not terribly easy.

Matthiew Giralt pastors a church in Etupes, eastern France. It’s one of the regions hardest hit by the virus. His congregation has had several people infected, and some have had family members die.

GIRALT: The hardest thing is not to be able to be present with people and be at their side. Especially for a pastor, not being able to pastor people at this time. Thankfully we have a lot of means of communication. 

He sees two big hardships around him. First, loneliness, especially among older people who are already isolated. Second, fear of the future and of death. During the quarantine he sees people going to great lengths to distract themselves with work or entertainment to avoid thinking about the bigger questions of life. But that’s where Giralt says Christians have an opportunity. 

His church usually hosts an Easter service with a huge roasted-lamb barbeque afterwards. They won’t be doing that this year, but the ultimate message is still the same.

GIRALT: It’s normal to be fearing death. We as Christians we have been liberated from the fear of death. … I think it’s an amazing opportunity for Christians all around the world to share the message of the gospel about hope and about victory over death by Jesus Christ.

Reporting for WORLD, I’m Jenny Lind Schmitt.


(AP Photo/Luca Bruno) A coronavirus patient under treatment in the intensive care unit, sits on a chair at ‘Ospedale di Circolo’ hospital, in Varese, Italy, Wednesday, April 8, 2020. 

WORLD Radio transcripts are created on a rush deadline. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of WORLD Radio programming is the audio record.

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