On February 22, Ritul Sharma and Ashima Kalra – both students of a fashion academy in Delhi – were hopping brands in Milan, the fashion capital of the world. Walking through the streets, they were informed that Italy has confirmed a second coronavirus infection case. Soon after, 23 others from the group that was visiting Italy under an student exchange programme, retired to their apartments.
What followed was a curtailment of the tenure for the month-long program, which was supposed to end on February 29.
“As soon as we got the message about a case of the fatal coronavirus disease in Italy, the officials from our college and Domus Academy scheduled a meeting on February 23. It was decided that the educational trip be curtailed and the group leave Milan on the night of February 25,” said Kalra.
The first confirmed case of coronavirus in Italy was reported on February 15. On February 27, the number of cases rose to 650 while 17 deaths were reported. On March 17, Italy was the world’s worst-hit after China, with nearly 28,000 infections, over 2,150 deaths, and millions under a countrywide lockdown.
Sharma said pharmacies had put up boards outside their shops saying ‘No sanitizers and face masks available’. He said the group was carrying masks and sanitisers from India. “We could see some people wearing masks and they seemed to be mostly tourists. Italians were approaching and asking us as to how and where to get these masks from.”
The jazz streets of Neyveli and the area around Duomo di Milano, the cathedral church of Milan, are a hit among youngsters and tourists for its shopping street, dotted with high-end brands, cafes and photogenic architecture. Kalra said that on February 24, when she visited the area, she could only see 30% of the usual crowd.
The two students did not see any billboard being put up by the government for disseminating information about the infection.
The batch of students had even travelled to Paris over the February 16 weekend. They were not tested for fever or symptoms in Milan or Paris. However, after coming back to Milan on February 17, they were checked at the Malpensa Airport.
On February 25, at 8 pm, the batch of students came back to India. They had expected a test and follow up check-up at the Indian airport, which, however, never happened. They were advised a check-up and 14-day-self quarantine period by their college official. The students got themselves checked at Dr Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital in New Delhi and test results turned out to be negative.
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