Sask. woman noticing big changes to daily life in Tuscany amid COVID-19 spread

·3 min read

Children playing happily in a park is normally unremarkable, but in Italy, where the COVID-19 virus has already killed hundreds, it caught Fay Wallenberg by surprise on Sunday.

"It kind of boggled my mind a bit because the schools have been shut down here, so it's not like this should be taken lightly," said the Regina-born teacher.

Wallenberg, who has been living in Tuscany, southeast of Pisa, said she wouldn't let her own son — a toddler — play outside even if it is business as usual at the moment.

"Before this all happened, it was just like regular, every day life," Wallenberg said Sunday afternoon. "You'd see people in the parks. You'd see people walking their dogs."

More recently, as a result of the spreading virus, there are fewer people in the streets, in the grocery store and in the markets. Public officials recommend people keep a three-foot buffer zone between themselves.

Submitted by Fay Wallenberg
Submitted by Fay Wallenberg

The daily grind has been slowed but not yet ground to a halt. Restaurants must space patrons further apart than usual, to respect the buffer zones, Wallenberg says.

She said she is thinking twice about hopping into her car and going to the grocery store these days. Older residents in the area are asked to order groceries online. Anyone going to the grocery store is encouraged to go alone.

"Really, it's a matter of the least amount of contact possible," Wallenberg said.

Tuscany had 61 cases of COVID-19, as of March 5th. In Lombardy, there were 2,251 at that time. The Associated Press reported that on Saturday, there had been 1,247 new cases taking the total to 5,883 people.

Schools, offices and businesses have had to shut down in the more seriously impacted areas of Italy, like Milan.

"If the schools are shut down, it's probably best to stay indoors."

In Pisa, which Wallenberg describes as a University town and tourist destination, the population is about 90,000 people, comparable to Lethbridge in size and footprint.

In the northern region of the country, there are quarantines and restrictions that tell people to avoid movement in and out of homes unless necessary and those will remain in place until April. Tuscany has not been affected.

"A month [without working], that's no joke. It's OK for our family ... but I don't know what the situation would be like for other people," she said.

The cultural differences also account for more human interaction than that of Saskatchewan. While Costco customers are buying in bulk in Saskatchewan, someone might go to the store every day in Italy.

Yara Nardi/Reuters
Yara Nardi/Reuters

Food is purchased in markets, out in the open, necessitating more human interaction.

"I'm rethinking how I plan my meals. I'm being more vigilant about cleaning products and what I have in my house that's going to disinfect and clean," Wallenberg said.

Global Affairs Canada is advising Canadians to avoid non-essential travel to northern Italy, due to the spread of COVID-19.

People are advised to avoid large crowds, sick and/or coughing people and to follow local health advice. Hand sanitizer is helpful if no soap is available but soap and water are the safest and most reliable method of cleaning.