Sunderland woman describes life in lockdown in Italy and warns: 'You guys don’t know what’s coming!'

A Sunderland-born woman is living in an Italian village which has suffered eight coronavirus deaths – including a doctor who was treating the sick.

Monday, 30th March 2020, 12:11 pm

Sandra Laws, who hails originally from Farringdon, is now living in Cingoli in central Italy with husband Greg.

Among the olive groves, they run a bed and breakfast accommodation and Sandra admitted: “It has been disastrous for our small B&B and olive oil businesses but we remain positive and confident. Our region ranks about fifth in Italy for virus cases and deaths.”

She also had a warning for people back in England and said: “You guys don’t know what’s coming!”

Sign up to our daily newsletter

The i newsletter cut through the noise

Sandra and husband Greg outside their Italian home.

Their lives have changed since the Italian government introduced its shutdown three weeks ago for 60 million citizens.

“Everyone is very frightened and there are very few vehicles and also very few people who leave their homes. There is lots of information available on the internet and television.

“The ‘Protezione Civile’ (similar to the UK’s civil defence force) is spearheading the campaign to protect people’s lives. There are many different police forces here so the shutdown is enforced rigorously with fines ranging from 206 to 3000 Euros and 3 months imprisonment for serious offences. People remain upbeat, pull together and seem to have adopted a war time spirit.”

Italy is split into comunes which are the equivalent of English constituencies and Sandra said: “Visitors from relatives or friends is discouraged, some comunes allow people to exercise outdoors others do not.

“Virtually all shops have closed and only food shops including supermarkets, chemists, garages and filling stations and essential shops remain open. Bars and restaurants remain closed.

“Weddings and funerals are banned. Schools, colleges and universities closed some time ago. All public venues are closed and our local comune is contactable by either telephone or email.

“Only one person at a time can leave the house and you need to complete a permit (declaration) to show to the police if stopped.

“Our local comune has also introduced a law for shoppers so that the maximum number of people who can visit a shop, farmacia etc. at any one time equates to the maximum number of employees working in the shop. Greg visited the local supermarket last week and with only 10 employees only 10 customers were allowed in at any one time.

“These must be one shopper only not couples or families. He waited for two hours before he could access the store.

“Most shoppers wore face masks and were standing two metres apart; they were unusually quiet and prepared to wait. Once inside the store the shelves were full and there was no panic buying.”

Sandra added: “There doesn’t appear to be any medical restrictions and there is a region central number to call if you have any of the symptoms and the Red Cross will come out. There is a national number to contact if you are elderly and live on your own, are not self-sufficient or are isolated with the virus to remotely arrange the delivery of prescriptions or groceries.”

The toll of the coronavirus was also explained by Sandra. She said: “There have been 8 virus deaths in our nearby town of Cingoli. Four were from a care home and the doctor who treated them (he and his wife own olive groves and farmland next to ours). He died from the virus on March 19 aged 67.

“If someone is taken to hospital with the virus symptoms they are not allowed any visitors; the hospital will not call you so people are unaware of what’s happening to their loved ones and will only contact a relative if they die. In the north the Army have been called in to move the volume of coffins.”

Sandra added: “The medical system here is excellent but is under enormous pressure. The Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte spoke with Vladimir Putin recently and Russia has sent the first of nine massive air transporters with doctors, facemasks and viral specialists to help Italy. Cuba has sent 34 doctors and 100 nurses to help too.”

Sandra also had a series of tips for Echo readers:

Keep your 2 metre distance away from other people at all times. Wear plastic disposable gloves if you use an ATM. Boil metal coins given in change and leave shoes and outerwear outside if you have worn these, for example to visit the supermarket. If you can access a face mask it’s a good idea to wear one. If you can access goggles or a face visor these also may be a good idea. Remain positive and keep busy.