What it’s like for Nova Scotians in countries hardest hit by coronavirus

Two people with ties to Nova Scotia who find themselves in countries hardest hit by COVID-19 are hoping for the best as they cope with life under lockdown.

Twenty-year-old Leah Gillespie from Sydney, N.S., has been working as an au pair with a family in Milan, Italy, since January on a three-month contract.

As the number of coronavirus cases in Italy mount and as measures to contain the spread expand, she’s grown more concerned about getting stuck.

“I was panicking trying to figure out how to get home as soon as possible when I heard that Italy was under lockdown,” she said Tuesday by text message.

Some of the travel restrictions in Italy, announced Monday. include that the country’s 60 million people will only be able to travel for work, medical reasons or emergencies until April 3.

Over the weekend, Gillespie travelled with her host family to Formia — between Naples and Rome — where they have relatives. The family is now under quarantine there.

A waiter stands by empty tables outside a restaurant in Venice on March 9, 2020, after the Italian government imposed a lockdown to try to contain the coronavirus outbreak. (Manuel Silvestri/Reuters)

The host family worried that if Gillespie tried to leave, she could be fined or arrested.

“It’s been so stressful,” said Wendy Gillespie, Leah’s mother. “I’ve been talking to so many different people just trying to get answers as to what’s safe, what’s not safe.”

Over the past couple of days, Wendy Gillespie said she’s been in contact with the Italian consulates in Halifax and Ottawa, the Canada Border Services Agency and her MLA.

“Basically, what they’re telling me is she is supposed to follow the laws and regulations of Italy,” she said. “I think it’s just she has to do it at her own risk and see what happens.”

What it’s like in Japan

Like Italy, the Japanese island of Hokkaido has been on lockdown due to the high number of cases. On Feb. 28, a state of emergency was declared, shutting down schools and emptying popular tourist destinations. 

Andre Parsons, who graduated from Saint Mary’s University, now teaches at Hokkaido University of Education in Hakodate, Halifax’s sister city, where he lives with his wife and three-year-old son. 

Andre Parsons is originally from Newfoundland and Labrador and lives in Japan with his wife and three-year-old son.  (Andre Parsons)

He said some stores are running out of masks and toilet paper, and people have been told to limit their toilet paper purchases to one pack per family.

Recently, Parsons learned a shipment of toilet paper was coming in at a nearby drugstore, but by the time his wife arrived the next morning, there was a long line of people outside, and masks and toilet paper were already sold out. 

“I’m trying not to stockpile like a lot of other people have been doing, but at the same time when you do go to the drugstore, and you see the shelves empty, you kind of do feel like, OK the next time I see toilet paper, I should probably pick up a pack,” Parsons told CBC’s Information Morning

Goryokaku Park, a popular tourist destination in Hakodate, was empty this week, but Parsons said supermarkets and drugstores are open as usual. (Andre Parsons)

A few days ago, he said a local store began selling homemade masks, and he was able to buy a few for his son.

He said for the most part, people in Hakodate are following the same precautions that Canadians are, including thoroughly washing their hands.

“It is a serious situation, but at the same time just, you know, try to relax and stay calm and, you know, let other people buy masks and toilet paper,” he said. 

Canadians urged to avoid travel to some countries

On Wednesday, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced $1 billion to help Canadians cope with the spread of the virus.

The federal government is also recommending that people avoid non-essential travel to a list of countries where the virus has spread, including Italy and Japan.

Leah Gillespie plans to return to her host family’s home in Milan to gather her possessions, then head to the airport and try to get a flight to London and then fly to Canada.

A general view of Piazza Gae Aulenti on March 10, 2020, in Milan, Italy. The Italian government has taken the unprecedented measure of a nationwide lockdown, limiting people to move only for work or health reasons, in an effort to fight the world’s second-most deadly coronavirus outbreak after China. (Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images)

She said she knows of a British friend who flew from Milan to London early Tuesday morning.

“I’m hopeful, but a lot of flights are getting cancelled,” she said.

If she does make it back to Cape Breton, the plan is to self-quarantine at home for two weeks.

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