Coronavirus: ‘There’s no going back’


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Ilenia Fundrisi says she panicked when she saw the situation in Italy

Coronavirus has taken lives, closed businesses and schools and left millions of us on lockdown in our own homes. The global crisis has also left countless people in Britain separated from their loved ones abroad. Here, some of them share their stories.

‘What am I here for?’

“The situation is weird because it feels like we’ve gone to war from one day to the other. I feel completely powerless.”

Ilenia Fundrisi, 35, from Sicily, says she panicked as she watched the situation escalate in Italy, currently the worst-hit country in the world.

Ms Fundrisi has her parents in Enna, while her sister Stefania is a nurse on the outskirts of Milan, Lombardy – the epicentre of the outbreak in Italy, a country where the death toll is above 7,500.

“When it all started I panicked because I would hear of the chaos in Italy – and that while no measures were being taken in England,” she says.

“When I saw people singing out the balcony I thought ‘I want to go back’. Nothing of the sort would happen here.”

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Ms Fundrisi with her sister Stefania, who works as a nurse in Lombardy

“When panic takes over, you want to drop everything and go back,” the London-based interior designer says.

“You know when everything stops and you think ‘what am I here for?’

“My biggest worry is that if anything were to happen I wouldn’t be able to see them, and that is made worse by the fact I’m so far away.”

But the 35-year-old weighed up the pros and cons and realised she would not only lose her job by going back but also put everyone at risk of infection.

She says returning to Italy would’ve been “disrespectful” towards her sister “and all the other doctors who are literally sacrificing their lives in order to save people”.

“There are those mornings where you might get up and cry for 20 minutes,” Ms Fundrisi says. “But then you come back to reality and try to tell yourself it will be OK.”

‘We need a plan if you get sick’

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Bianca Latini’s mother is in the US and the rest of her family is in Italy

“I know people that have lost loved ones to the virus. I can’t imagine what that feels like, and I really don’t want to find out.”

Bianca Latini, from Bath, was brought up in Rome where her father, sister and grandmother live, while her mother lives in the US.

She was taken to hospital in November due to a rare autoimmune condition, and her worried mother phoned her when the coronavirus outbreak happened, saying: “Bianca, we need a plan if you get sick, you might be one of those at-risk groups.”

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She has already written three songs since the UK came under lockdown

“I just had to tell her that I don’t think there’s any way that you could come here if I was hospitalised,” she says. “And knowing that was really hard.”

The environmental engineer, 26, who has been living in Bath for three years, says she won’t go back to Italy because she doesn’t want to endanger her grandmother.

In the same way, she doesn’t want to put herself or her mother at risk by getting a 12-hour flight to the US, or make work any harder by creating a time difference with her colleagues.

“At the end of the day it’s about trying to put aside your worries of being alone, for the wellbeing of your family – and your own.”

Ms Latini broke up with her partner three days before lockdown, “so the feelings of loneliness are very real”.

But she says she has been establishing a routine of Skyping, playing board games online and dedicating herself to songwriting, so things are now “looking better than when they first started”.

‘I worry about not knowing’

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Ursula Mann says her mum is “completely alone” in Washington

“I’ve always relied on the fact that you can travel, jump on a train and go back,” she says. “So I’ve always thought I am a day away, but now it may be a year.”

Ursula Mann, 46 and from Tavistock in Devon, is among the many UK-based expats having to come to terms with the fact they must face the pandemic away from their loved ones.

She says she is blessed to have her husband and two children by her side, but is concerned about being away from her mother, father and brother, who are spread across different US states.

“I worry about not knowing that they got ill. That’s my main worry.”

With both the UK and the US imposing travel restrictions, Ms Mann, who is a local councillor in Tavistock, doubts she would even be able to get into the US.

“Could I be in that situation where my parents are in a life-threatening situation and I can’t even get into that country?”

Ms Mann says returning home to stay with her mother, who is “completely alone” in Pacific County, Washington, “was blown out the water before it occurred to me I could actually go there and be of help”.

As someone who has been away from her home country for 10 years, Ms Mann says she has all the technology set up to keep in touch with her loved ones.

“If you’re an expat you’ve expected that [distance] in your life. But I think this is the first time it hit me where there could be a time where there is no going back.”

Not knowing when it will all blow over is what scares Ms Mann. “There are just so many unknowns,” she says as she describes how she checks what both Donald Trump and Boris Johnson have to say every day.

“I think because each country is facing its own challenges, it’s almost as if I have double the news feed.

“It’s just a horrifying thing to be adding to your daily level of anxiety.”

‘The first thing I’ll do is book a flight home’

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Francesco Girone says the crisis has driven a “digitalisation” of human interaction

Francesco Girone,who is originally from Bari but now lives in London, was left in limbo when Italy went into lockdown three weeks ago.

The 28-year-old wanted to return but the main thing holding him back was the uncertainty over whether he would, as an Italian residing abroad post-Brexit, still have access to Italian healthcare if he contracted the virus.

“There is still no agreement as to what services will be provided to Europeans after Brexit so I didn’t want to risk it,” the marketing manager says.

“Trying to get through to the embassy and consulate for clarity was impossible and there was also a grey area around flights.”

Mr Girone says that while “it would have made my family very happy having me back, it could have caused them health issues, so I ended up staying”.

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Mr Girone during a video call with his grandmother Adele

His grandmother Adele, 81, has learnt how to video call so she can stay in touch with her grandchildren, while his mother uses HouseParty “as if it’s her favourite app”.

Describing how he has already celebrated three birthdays over FaceTime, Mr Girone says it’s been startling to see the outbreak drive a “digitalisation” of human interaction.

“Emotions are changing, you no longer have the pleasure to see someone in person but through technology,” he says.

It’s unclear when borders will reopen and people will be able to reach their loved ones but Mr Girone says the “first thing” he will do is book a flight home “so I can hug everyone as only the Italians know how”.

“I don’t think I’ll ever skip a festivity with the family again because after this you realise how important it is to stay together.”



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