A Sicilian holiday turned into a nightmare for a group of London teenagers who tested positive for coronavirus and have spent almost four weeks in quarantine — with no end in sight.
Rachel Goldsmith, 18, was visiting Palermo with three friends in September when some of them began to experience symptoms of Covid-19.
What happened next is a cautionary tale for anyone trying to travel during a global pandemic.
After all testing positive, they were taken by ambulance to a hotel and put in separate rooms to self-isolate until they could show two consecutive negative tests.
One of them has since been allowed home, but the other three have had further positive results, despite showing no symptoms since September 19.
“It’s been nearly four weeks, we’re all feeling quite down and struggling to stay positive,” Rachel told AFP by telephone from the hotel.
She said her room has a bathroom but is dirty, she has to do her laundry in the sink, and some of the food brought up on trays has contained nuts — despite her telling them she had a nut allergy.
Rachel says she can hear a woman nearby crying, people have thrown things out of the window in apparent protest and late at night she hears shouting in the corridor “which can be scary”.
But the worst is the lack of communication about the tests that will be her ticket home.
“They tell us we’re going to have a test and then it never comes. And then if we keep calling them, often they just hang up on us,” she said.
She has still not had confirmation of the result of her last test on October 5.
“That’s really hard mentally — we have no idea how long we’re going to be here,” she said.
“We’ve heard stories of people being stuck in these kind of places for months and months, and that’s a scary thought.”
For now, the girls’ lives are on hold.
One has missed the start of her university course, while Rachel is trying to find a job but cannot tell prospective employers when she can start.
Italy was the first Western country to be struck by coronavirus and the memory of morgues overflowing and a long, hard lockdown has left authorities determined to keep it under control.
But Rachel’s father, Andrew Goldsmith, believes the quarantine measures go too far.
He says the tests the girls have had are unreliable and argues the requirement for two negative results is against World Health Organization (WHO) advice.
The WHO says symptomatic patients should be released from confinement 10 days after symptoms began, plus at least three days without symptoms.
“So why keep doing this stupid negative test requirement?” Andrew Goldsmith told AFP.
He and the parents of the other girls have written to Italy’s ambassador to the UK, Raffaele Trombetta, asking him to intervene in the case.
In an emailed response seen by AFP, an Italian embassy official said he was “sympathetic” to the girls’ plight and had raised the issue with the foreign ministry.
But he added: “We cannot interfere in the health protocol which is in place to contain the contagion in such delicate times.”
Goldsmith said Britons should think twice about booking a holiday in Italy, saying they risk “an indeterminate sentence in solitary confinement”.
Italy is one of the few holiday destinations Britons can still visit without having to quarantine on their way home.
However, as of this week they will have to prove a negative test on arrival.
A UK foreign ministry spokeswoman said consulate staff were supporting a small number of Britons in quarantine in Italy.
“The length of quarantine is based on local measures to control the spread of Covid-19,” she added.