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.”