For Carolyn Gillis living under lock down in Italy due to the coronavirus outbreak is somewhat of a surreal experience.
“Today was very quiet,” Ms Gillis from Montague who is now teaching in the northern part of Italy said.
“Before people would still be in the streets and the cafes would have a lot of people in them, but when I walked home this evening (Tuesday) there were very few people around.”
“Two or three people were at one outdoor cafe and I stopped at the store and there might have been four people in there.”
Ms Gillis who has spent the past eight years teaching overseas went to Italy in August to teach high school math at the International School of Trieste.
Trieste, in the region called Friuli-Venezia Giulia, is a small city of 160,000 close to the border with Slovenia.
She travels 5 kms to the school walking part of the way and taking the bus.
“Today for the first time I got on the bus and where the driver sits is all blocked off with signs,” she said.
“We can’t use the front door to get on the bus anymore and passengers maintain their distance in the seats,” she said.
During the stop at the store she was faced with shelves, normally filled with produce and fruit, almost empty.
“It is still available, but because of this quarantine I think maybe people are panicking a little bit,” she said explaining how there are still several open markets in the street selling fresh food.
The latest numbers from Italy show 10,149 cases of coronavirus with 631 deaths.
Initially, two regions of the European country were hard hit a couple of weeks ago, but yesterday the Italian Prime Minister announced a country wide lock down to try and contain the spread.
“It is an interesting scenario here,” she said.
“You kind of do have to fight the panic.”
On the one hand there are many people who think it is just a flu virus and there is nothing to panic about.
And yet, when you are in the situation where you can’t travel to the next town and you need a note in your pocket to go to work things are different, she said.
“All of a sudden it’s not just the flu because it does impact your life and I totally understand it because until you are living in the ramifications of it, it is just the
flu,” she said.
People are allowed out to go to work, get groceries or walk the dog.
Even though the school has been closed for three weeks and teaching has been done online, Ms Gillis teaches from the school because she has no wifi at home.
“They want people to stay at home, but the school gave me a piece of paper I carry in case any one asks why I am out,” she said.
Only a day into the lock down she was walking down the street feeling very self conscious.
It reminded her of the scenes in movies about World War Two where people are asked for their papers.
“That was a little disconcerting, but there were very few other people around,” she said.
About three weeks ago she had another encounter at an airport that left her with that twilight zone kind of feeling.
She was on vacation when the virus started in Italy so she was puzzled by people wearing masks when she was making her return trip in the airports.
“I was at the luggage carousel and there was a line up of people I was trying to get around so I could catch the train.”
“So I go to go around them and then I see two people in white hazmat suits, completely covered, with the air respirators on, taking temperatures.
That is when I realized what was going on and I went to the back of the line.
Her temperature was normal.
But in the days since, she has been monitoring her temperature just in case.
“I still do take it periodically because I go on busses,” she added.
Ms Gillis said she could leave and come back to Canada if she wanted to, but is content to stay as she is kept busy working everyday.
“That is kind of reassuring to know I could go home if I had to,” she said.
If she did return to Canada she would most likely be facing a two week quarantine.
Her daughter Grace is in university in London, England where professors are telling students to prepare for possible closures there in the near future.