This article originally appeared on VICE UK.
I went to Italy to visit my family last week. At that point, the cases of coronavirus in Italy were just the ones from the tourists who went to China. There were no cases on the mainland.
My hometown is Monza in the north of Italy, which is north of Milan. Over the week, I went to Lake Como, ate loads of food, and went for a walk in the mountains. We went to the seaside but we didn't swim because it was too cold. I never went through any of the towns that were in lockdown, and we'd never taken trains or public transport.
It was the first evening we were there that the cases started to pop up. I started to realise it was serious when I started to see it on the news and hear it on the radio. It was a conversation that permeated any type of news outlet from radio to TV to newspapers. They got the prime minister on every talk show. It was a major topic of discussion in Italy because it provoked this mass hysteria, where people started rushing to the supermarket just buying everything.
Within my family, there was a bit of worry, but no one was extremely worried. We had hand sanitiser, my mother got some masks from work. We were quite relaxed. When we first landed in Italy on Tuesday, they checked us for fever before passport control [anyway].
The day I was meant to fly back to the UK was when in the morning, they declared the north of Italy as a danger area. So I texted my housemates to let them know I was flying back, but I hadn't been in any of the infected towns. I wasn't exposed and everything was fine.
My housemates messaged me right as I was about to put my phone on airplane mode. They told me they'd let their offices know that I was coming back from the north of Italy. Then I landed in Stanstead, where they didn't perform any checks – not even for a fever. It was kind of business as usual.
As soon as I turned my phone on I had more messages from my housemates. I live in a shared three-bed house in Finsbury Park. One housemate told me that his work had told him if I was going back home, he should also have to self-isolate, or he would have to move out for two weeks somewhere else. Or: they could ask me to find somewhere else to self isolate.
My other housemate is currently taking immunosuppressant medicine, so he was a bit worried – plus he's also a researcher, and they're doing experiments with mice. His HR department told him that if he was to be in contact with someone who came back from north Italy or China, he had to self-isolate himself or there could have been a risk of compromising the integrity of the mice, and they would have had to kill all of the mice.
My housemates weren't clearly telling me to leave, but I decided to go somewhere else. I was annoyed that my housemates didn't tell me clearly that they felt uncomfortable. The thing is: if I was infected, I could have just gone to Stansted and then home. Instead, I had to go to Stansted, Tottenham Hale, Stratford, Hackney, and all over London.
After the flight, I decided with my girlfriend to go back to hers in Hackney, and I managed to talk to my cousin who lives in south London, and she offered me a place at hers.
When I needed to pick up some clothes, my housemates offered to gather some of my stuff and leave it outside the door. I told them, "Guys, I'm just going to come the day after when no one is at home – I have hand sanitiser, I have a mask." I literally just went home for half an hour, picked up my stuff and left.
For the last four days, I've been staying in south London. My cousin has a studio with a guest room, and I had some of the luggage and some extra clothes so I'm in a comfortable situation. But what happens to people who couldn't afford a hotel room? Or don't have any friends or family who could have them?
The government or NHS hasn't advised me what to do in this situation. I kind of feel I've been left to my own devices. I've been trying to contact 111 for the past two days. I'm not showing any of the symptoms but I just wonder if I should get tested – but it's impossible to get through. I've spent numerous times on hold for more than an hour. I guess people are panicking. I'm feeling OK though, and I don't have any of the symptoms.
I'm feeling a bit upset towards my housemates. They could have just asked me straight away if I was OK, and just tell me straight away for me to move out. If they'd told me that straight away I would have been fine. My housemates are lovely people so it wasn't a burden to have to go somewhere else. I understand. But if I was living with people I didn't get along with, I'm not sure how I would have acted. Effectively, I'm paying rent – that's my house, that's where I live. Maybe I shouldn't have to pay rent for two weeks?
In two weeks – hopefully – I'll get to move back.