Italy’s south, with weaker infrastructure, fears virus outbreak

The usually bustling entrance hall of the Department of Agriculture Food and Environment at the University of Catania, Sicily, is deserted.

“All academic activities are temporarily suspended”, says a sign hanging on the main gate.

Since three professors tested positive for coronavirus after returning from a university conference in northern Italy on March 2, the department became one of the first in the country to cancel classes.

The professors went into self-isolation and none experienced any more serious symptoms.

Weeks later, the entire country is now in a state of lockdown.

Now declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization, COVID-19 has so far killed 631 people and affected more than 10,000 in Italy – the hardest-hit country outside China.

The virus is much more widespread in the north, but the island of Sicily, in the south, has 83 confirmed cases, and Catania – the second-largest city after Palermo, is the most affected city with 41 positive cases.

The distance from the epicentres of the outbreak, the so-called “red zones” in the north’s Lombardy and Veneto regions, meant locals in the south have been taking a “light-minded approach because of the island’s apparent geographical safety”, according to Martina Di Leo, 22, a communications student at the University of Catania.

“I think many young people have not taken this seriously enough yet. Some claimed [life] is too short to spend it in quarantine, and began believing in conspiracy theories about the government’s propaganda to create panic.”

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