EXPAT Nadia Dalbuono’s life was turned upside down when the Italian province she has made her home went into lockdown.
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Her finance director husband Marco, 52, has been banned from work while their children Bruno, seven, and five-year-old Harry have been at home following the shutting down of their school last month.
Since Sunday, when the authorities banned anyone leaving the region, the family have been stuck in the village of Cantalupo Ligure, which is 70 miles south-west of Milan.
Here crime novelist Nadia, 46, who has lived in Italy for 14 years, chronicles their isolation in a haunting diary . . .
FRIDAY, MARCH 6
THE kids have been off school for two weeks and I am exhausted.
Most of their extracurricular activities have been cancelled and there are only so many trips to the shopping centre you can make.
My husband Marco and I, along with most people at the village bar, cannot understand what all the fuss is about. The flu kills many more people each day.
We get up early to go skiing. My son’s best friend and his family come too. We have a lot of fun.
Spring is in the air and the virus is far from our thoughts. But on the news, they report that the numbers are starting to spike.
There are rumours about the red zone [the areas most at risk which have been put into quarantine] being extended to Milan. How could you lock down Italy’s business capital?
To consider economic disruption this big, the authorities must be deeply worried. Unease begins to stir.
They have extended the red zone to Milan — and our province of Alessandria has been placed inside it.
My husband can no longer go to work in Genoa and I cannot leave for the airport — any thoughts of heading back to the UK are out.
The numbers are really on the rise. An intensive care doctor from Lombardy interviewed on the news said all the different medical specialities — gynaecologists, neurosurgeons, endocrinologists — are now working in intensive care.
He complains that away from the epicentres, people are too complacent and that we could reach the stage where the elderly are left to die.
Another person says the sound of sirens in Piacenza is relentless.
I think about my asthma and thyroid problems. Would this virus be a problem for me?
My husband heads to Genoa. He needs to collect files from the office so he can work from home. He expects to encounter roadblocks but passes unchecked.
When he arrives, a colleague starts screaming at him, saying he should not have come.
To reassure his staff, the boss quarantines my husband in a room on his own all day and gives him a stack of paperwork to complete in the event the police stop him. They don’t. I go to the village as we are out of milk.
The normally friendly newsagent barely utters a word. Maybe she thinks my husband is still working in Milan and doesn’t know he changed jobs.
The lady in the grocer’s asks if he’s still based there. She breathes a sigh of relief when I set her straight. The number of cases is now 9,000-plus. They’ve tripled since Friday. Friends and family back home are emailing, asking if we are OK.
The edict not to leave the province has been ramped up — don’t leave your village or town. You will need special permission to travel to the supermarket 20 minutes away.
In the village shop, everything costs double and people are wearing masks. On Monday police came and read them the riot act. Signs went up saying just three customers at a time — and we have to keep a metre’s distance from each other.
Government messages are doing the rounds, urging people not to leave their homes. Those who do are putting the elderly at risk. The government jokes that it’s the only time you can do your bit for the country by staying in your pyjamas.
The kids pressed their noses to the window as the neighbours and their children walked past our house and cried when I wouldn’t let them out.
It feels so strange not to be able to talk to those passing by. My sons’ teachers keep sending homework through on WhatsApp which I need to supervise. It feels like I’m running a school.
It feels like i’m living in a nightmare
Another doctor from Lombardy is on the news. He says we have now reached the dreaded stage where the elderly are being left to die. It feels like I’m living in a nightmare.
I go back to making a chocolate cake. I wonder whether it will be the last one I eat. I have developed a dry cough and I feel feverish.
A mum from school forwards a WhatsApp message suggesting we all make rainbow banners saying “Everything will be OK”. Too many of the younger children are stressed and could do with reassurance.
I talk to my sister who is a doctor in the UK. She is worried by how little they seem to be doing to prepare. I tell her I think they’re sleepwalking into a nightmare.
On the evening news, Lombardy’s governor says they may not be able to guarantee hospital care ten days from now. I can’t believe it.
I wish I’d started to think about all of this a lot earlier
They are shutting all the shops now, only letting them open every few days for customers to restock.
My husband wants to go to Milan to withdraw money as he is worried the government may freeze bank accounts. But what if they detain him and he can’t come home? And if I get sick, who will care for our children?
My thoughts are running away with me but I wish I’d started to think about all of this a lot earlier. My cough is getting worse.
It is a beautiful day here in Piedmont and my cough seems to have disappeared. I’ve got cabin fever so I sit in the garden and enjoy the sun.
Less than two hours away they are struggling to cope with a full-on emergency and people are being left to die. I almost feel as if I am sunbathing on the deck of the Titanic.
Bruno, my eldest, is being very difficult. He moans the whole time and is becoming angry and aggressive with his younger brother. He complains that it has been days since he last saw someone his age.
I am trying not to express too much anxiety in front of the children
The other night Bruno asked me if I was going to die. I am trying not to express too much anxiety in front of the children.
The TV news is reporting that the health service in Lombardy is almost at saturation point. If they reach capacity, they will no longer be able to treat the sick.
The head of the Veneto region expects to have 2million cases by the middle of April. The health service there would collapse.
Doctors from Lombardy are describing how patients are dying alone. There is no relative to hold their hand as all family members are banned from going inside the hospital.
After lunch, I have to drive through the village to collect some school books. It’s deserted and the car park is empty.
I spot two old ladies going for a stroll, respecting the one-metre distance rule by walking one behind the other. They have a conversation by shouting back and forth.
I fight the sensation that this is all just a nightmare
It’s the only thing that has made me smile in a long time.
The government is talking about shutting all industrial production. Only pharmacies and food shops would stay open.
We are told that the next 14 days will be crucial in establishing whether they have had any success in slowing the spread of the virus. I go back into the garden. The spring sun is still shining and the birds are singing. Yet again, I fight the sensation that this is all just a nightmare.
They have shut down the country — bars, all stores except food shops, most factories and, it seems, banks (although we are not quite sure whether this is true everywhere).
My husband went to the village and the only place open was the baker’s. The morning cappuccino is almost a religious rite here and a few puzzled elderly locals were hanging around outside.
“Not even in the war did they close the bars,” said one.
My eldest asked me if there would be anyone left in the world once the virus took hold. My youngest is wondering what effect it would have on young children.
I assured him he would be fine but he didn’t seem convinced.
I realise that I have never thought about death so much. I think about it before I go to bed, in the middle of the night, when I wake up.
Over the past week when I’ve gone on Twitter, people’s concerns about the banal problems of daily life have made me think of Simon Pegg in Shaun Of The Dead when he fails to notice the beginning of the zombie apocalypse.
But now it seems people are finally starting to understand that our nightmare could be coming to them soon.
According to the news, the number of deaths in the last 24 hours has hit some kind of record. I resolve not to turn on the TV again until tonight. It’s easier that way.