A Caymanian chef has described the mayhem in northern Italy after flying out of Milan just as the city and large swathes of the country are being put on lockdown to halt the spread of coronavirus.
“It feels like we are running out just as the door is slamming shut,” said Jack Barwick, after boarding a plane for London with his Italian partner, Gaia Tomasin, Sunday afternoon.
“It is surreal. It feels a bit like a ‘Day Z’ situation, like a science fiction movie. Everyone is wearing masks or scarves over their face,” he told the Cayman Compass from the airport.
The couple are now quarantined in their own home in London. Speaking later Sunday evening, Barwick said they had been told to isolate and wait for a test from the British National Health Service.
They are still awaiting more details but Barwick said his understanding is they are not allowed to leave their home until further notice. He said his sister had dropped groceries outside of the window and they had some provisions from their trip to Italy to see them through.
Italian authorities put the district of Lombardy, which includes Milan, on lockdown Saturday, restricting the movement of some 16 million people.
Italian prime minister Giuseppe Conte said the country is facing a national emergency as the number of confirmed cases of coronavirus exceeded 7,300, with 366 deaths.
Police were on patrol throughout the region as most movement in and out of Lombardy and 14 other central and northern provinces was officially prohibited. The full impact of the restrictions is not yet clear, with trains and flights still operating on Sunday. The Guardian newspaper in the UK reported that local judicial authorities could decide to suspend flights in the next few days.
Despite the chaotic situation, Barwick and Tomasin were able to get out of Italy on a near-empty plane to London, Sunday evening.
“The whole of northern Italy is now a red zone,” he said.
Barwick, who currently lives in London, said the couple had spent less than a day in the impacted region, travelling through Milan en route to Switzerland.
“It wasn’t an issue when we came in, but it is now,” he said.
They were informed of the lockdown during an overnight stay in Milan before their return flight.
He added, “We were told at 3am this morning (Sunday) that they are declaring a red zone and restricting movements of the residents. Luckily, our flight was not cancelled.
“We thought we might have been stuck in Italy for a month.”
Barwick described the situation at the airport as “surreal”, with officials figuring out how to take information from people without touching them.
“You can’t sneak out a cough without five people staring at you,” he added.
Italy is the epicentre of the coronavirus in Europe. Weddings and funerals have been suspended throughout the country to prevent the spread of the disease. There is also a ban on all public events, and schools, cinemas, theatres and gyms have been closed.