25 February 2020
Marzio Toniolo works as a primary school teacher in the small, quiet northern Italian town of San Fiorano. Until recently, he would usually spend his weekday mornings riding a bicycle to work and teaching children.
Now, he is one of about 50,000 people whose lives are on hold. They have been placed under quarantine as Italy tries to contain Europe's worst outbreak of coronavirus. Italian officials say Lombardy and Veneto, two areas in the country's north, have the largest number of cases.
Many businesses are closed, and people speak to each other from a safe distance.
Marzio Toniolo says he has trouble explaining the situation to his grandfather.
"We told my grandpa 100 times that the bar is not open because of the Spanish flu, to make him understand," Toniolo said. "He is very angry and very old," he added.
Toniolo was speaking about the deadly disease that killed millions of people after World War I.
San Fiorano is only about 70 kilometers from Italy's financial capital, Milan. But the town has effectively been closed off from the outside world. Italian officials have reported that San Fiorano and nine neighboring towns were the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak.
Living under quarantine
Toniolo lives with his grandparents, who are both in their 80s, his wife Chiara Zuddas and their two-year-old daughter.
"We can take walks. We can walk our dogs... We can ride bikes, but the authorities have suggested that we should avoid contact with other people," he said.
Police put up barriers at the entrance of the town. Anyone who tries to escape faces up to three months in prison or a fine of up to $220.
Like her husband, Zuddas is a primary school teacher. She has created a WhatsApp messaging group to keep in contact with her students.
"Even if they are very young, I understood that they needed to hear from us and we needed to hear from them. I didn't do this to carry on with the school program, but to maintain human contact," she said.
"Next Wednesday, I am going to do an English exam via WhatsApp," she added.
The family regularly tests body temperatures with a thermometer to make sure none of them are getting sick. They and other families are counting down the days to when the 2-week quarantine ends.
"We know that we may be infected and that we may already have contracted the coronavirus," said Toniolo, adding that they were watching television stations to stay informed of what was happening.
"Let's hope everything will be fine. I have friends who have contracted the coronavirus these days, but they already feel better," he said. "They told me not to worry."
I'm Susan Shand.
The Reuters News Agency reported this story. Susan Shand adapted it for VOA Learning English. George Grow was the editor.
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Words in This Story
primary - adj. relating to the education of young children
bicycle - n. a 2-wheeled vehicle that a person rides by pushing on foot pedals
quarantine - v. the period of time during which a person or animal that has a disease or that might have a disease is kept away from others to prevent the disease from spreading
outbreak - n. a sudden start or increase of fighting or disease
bar - n. a building or room where alcoholic drinks and sometimes food are served