Coronavirus: British holidaymakers quarantined ‘for weeks’ in Sicily after testing positive

A Sicilian holiday turned into a nightmare for a group of London teenagers who tested positive for coronavirus and have now spent almost four weeks in quarantine - with no end in sight.

Coronavirus: British holidaymakers quarantined 'for weeks' in Sicily after testing positive
Tourists who test positive while on holiday in Italy may face weeks in isolation. Photo: AFP
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 tested 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 to gp home, but the other three have had further positive results, despite showing no symptoms since September 19th.
“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 5th.
“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 hit by coronavirus and has had touch rules in place to contain the spread – which are often far stricter than those implemented in the UK.
Rachel's father, Andrew Goldsmith, believes the quarantine measures in Italy 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 have been allowed to visit recently without having to quarantine on their return home.
However, Italian authorities have just introduced a new requirement for Brits to show a negative test result on arrival amid concern about the UK's contagion rate.
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.
You can follow all of The Local's latest updates on the coronavirus situation in Italy here.

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Q&A: What you need to know about Italy’s West Nile virus outbreak

As Italy records a surge in cases of West Nile fever, we look at what the disease is and where in the country it's spreading.

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy's West Nile virus outbreak

Mosquitos are unfortunately one downside of summer in Italy. But as well as being a nuisance, they may also pose a health risk in the country – one of the few in Europe to record cases of West Nile virus (WNV)

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Last week Italy recorded 50 more cases of the mosquito-borne virus, bringing the total number of infections to 144 according to the latest report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This marked a 53-percent increase in cases against the previous week, while ten people have died so far.

As the number of infections continues to rise, here are the answers to the most pressing questions about the disease and the outbreak in Italy.

What is it?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause West Nile fever in humans.

It’s a member of the Flavivirus family together with other endemic viruses such as the Zika and Dengue viruses.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda’s West Nile district but has since spread to many other parts of the world, to the point that it is now considered indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

Carried by birds, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species, which infect humans and other mammals through their bite, according to Italy’s health ministry.

There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Where are cases being reported in Italy?

Infections have been largely concentrated in the north of the country, especially in the Veneto region, where six people have now died of the disease. Other deaths were recorded in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

The city of Padua, which is located in Veneto’s mainland, around 35 kilometres away from the Adriatic coast, is currently regarded as the hotspot of the virus. 

It isn’t yet clear why Veneto has been the worst-hit region so far, but experts fear that its marshy lowlands might be the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

A mosquito of the Culex species viewed under a microscope.

Mosquitoes of the Culex species, a specimen of which is pictured above, are responsible for transmitting the West Nile Virus to humans and other mammals. Photo by Jon CHERRY Getty Images / AFP

How severe is the outbreak in Italy?

West Nile virus is not new to Italy. However, this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

National infection levels remain relatively low but the country has by far the largest number of cases in Europe.

According to the most recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), dated August 3rd, 94 out of 120 recorded cases were in Italy.

Greece had 23 reported cases. Romania and Slovakia had two and one respectively. 

Italy is the only European country that has reported fatalities.

What are the symptoms?

According to the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS), around 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms whatsoever.

In symptomatic cases, however, symptoms generally resemble those of a common flu and include fever, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea. 

The infection is usually only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, and the most severe symptoms occur in fewer than one percent of infected people.

In healthy people, the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat, and symptoms generally last only a few days.

According to the data currently available, around one in 150 infected people can show symptoms as serious as partial vision loss, convulsions and paralysis. 

In very rare cases (around 0.1 percent, or one in 1000) the disease can cause brain infections (encephalitis or meningitis) which may eventually be fatal.

Brazilian biologists handle mosquito larvae.

There is currently no vaccine against West Nile disease, though several are being tested. Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP

Is there a cure?

There is no vaccine against West Nile fever. “Currently vaccines are being studied, but for the moment prevention consists mainly in reducing exposure to mosquito bites,” the ISS states.

There is also no specific treatment for the disease caused by the virus.

Patients showing the more serious symptoms are usually admitted to hospital and treated with IV fluids and assisted ventilation.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Seeing as there is currently no vaccine against the virus, the best way to protect oneself is by reducing exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible.

Italian health authorities have listed a number of official recommendations to help residents avoid mosquito bites. These include: 

  • Use repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when being outdoors and especially during ​​mosquitoes’ peak activity times, i.e. sunrise and sunset
  • Use mosquito nets on your windows or sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and keep the windows closed
  • Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water around your house

See more information about West Nile virus in Italy on the health ministry’s website.