Expats on lockdown in Italy warn Northern Ireland people to react sensibly to crisis
Northern Irish people on lockdown in Italy's coronavirus ravaged red zones have warned people back home to "be sensible" in their responses to the crisis to avoid a similar situation here.
Italy is the worst-hit country after China. The death toll has jumped by 97 to 463, with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte describing the outbreak as the country's "darkest hour".
In response to the crisis, Italy has placed up to 16 million people under quarantine.
Anyone living in Lombardy and 14 other central and northern provinces needs special permission to travel. Milan and Venice are both affected.
English teacher Richie Hughes (45) from Londonderry lives in Milan with his wife Silvia and their daughter Nina.
He said: "At the start there was a case here and a case there and then the numbers started to go up.
"And we saw the spectrum of responses from the panic buying, going out emptying shops and supermarkets to the gung-ho 'I don't care, I'm not paying any notice to this' approach. Both were equally in different ways, not very sensible.
"In my opinion the government and airports and authorities were slow when they heard of the virus and then had to take pretty extreme measures.
"And they found that people were not taking the measures and advice, so they ended up having to take more extreme measures."
Mr Hughes explained how the lockdown is not as dramatic as some believe. "We are on lockdown. But it is not lockdown in your house with streets being patrolled by police," he added.
"They have stopped trains and planes coming in and out. There are restrictions on movement and there are fines for people who try to move around. We can go out to the shop and buy food, there are some cafes open, but there are a lot which are closed."
He said the measures are so extreme because people were being selfish.
"There was either one extreme where they are panic buying soap and leaving none for anyone else, or the other extreme where they didn't care and went where they wanted," he added. "Both were selfish and have created a scenario where our towns and cities are on lockdown. I would say to people, it is coming, it's on its way and it's really important to be sensible."
Deane Harkin (31) from Derry lives in Bergamo near Milan. The primary school teacher and father-of-one has lived in Italy for nearly eight years.
"On Sunday afternoon I was out with my daughter and we were in the park and everyone was having picnics and walking around," he said. "Then on Sunday evening they just announced that everything is being shut down. So we have to stay in our houses. People are allowed to go to work but if you go out for any other reason than work you can get a fine or be arrested.
"We are allowed inside our own residential areas, in our own communities. The shops are open but the bars, cafes and restaurants are just open until 6pm. But you have take your seat and they bring you down your coffee and you have to keep your distance from others.
"People had been panic buying for a while, but the shops seem okay now."
Dunmurry-born businessman Phil Clark (54), brother of UTV's Paul Clark, has lived in Bassano near Venice for 10 years. He said life is still functioning despite the lockdown. "There are still things functioning," he said. "Places are still open. You have to stand a metre apart from the person next to you. You have to be cautious.
"Restaurants and bars are taking a hit from it and there is a certain degree of hysteria. We had an Italian national of Chinese origin beaten up and there is also a resistance of people going to Chinese restaurants.
"Ten days ago the shops were stripped of tinned food and pasta, but they have been restocked now so there is plenty of food.
"Because the schools are off there are a lot of kids walking about. I think a lot of the time Italians can be quite blase about things. People are still going about their daily lives but putting something up around their mouth to protect themselves."
Tiarnan McMeekin (27), an English teacher from Glengormley, arrived home from Milan just days ago.
"I flew home from Italy a few days ago and I am in self-isolation now for two weeks," he said.
"I work as a teacher in Milan but because everything is closed due to the quarantine I decided to come home. I wanted to be close to family if anything did happen.
"It was very surreal over there before I left. It was so quiet. There are no tourists, bars are closed and the main tourist sites are shut."