When Winnifred Rosser’s daughter nearly died giving birth, the Australian grandmother was desperate to get home from Europe to be with her.
It was in early October that the 70-year-old expat received the distressing call to tell her that her daughter was suffering from serious complications during childbirth.
Until then, the grandmother never thought of leaving her adoptive home in Italy.
Ms. Rosser lives in the small town of Polinago, just over an hour from Bologna in northern Italy, while her daughter is almost 10,000 miles away in Melbourne.
Yet despite the urgency of being with her daughter, Rosser said the exorbitant cost of flights and hotel quarantine, as well as the estimated travel time of nearly 60 hours, proved too high.
“I had the painful realization that it would be practically impossible and that all I could do from afar is hope for the best,” he told 9news.com.au.
If distance and costs weren’t enough, Ms. Rosser also suffers from a chronic illness.
Her husband, David Malloch, tried to dissuade her from traveling for fear of contracting COVID-19 in transit.
“He felt like he had a target on my back,” he said.
“Fortunately with WhatsApp and Messenger we all survived this painful period.”
In January, Italy registered its first known case of COVID-19.
Since then, more than 1.7 million cases have been discovered in the country and more than 60,000 people have lost their lives.
Rosser described the first wave of viruses in Italy as “an extremely emotional moment for the entire country as the death toll continued to rise.”
“People were very gloomy, and I think the horror of seeing the emergency departments of various hospitals on television made everyone realize the enormity of the situation,” he said.
“We all thought it would be for a week or so, but the restrictions progressively tightened until we were finally unable to leave our local council area for any reason.
“It was like a war zone, the doctors said they had to constantly make life and death decisions about who to save due to the lack of beds in the ICU.”
Rosser said retired medical staff volunteered to return to work, and front-line staff had to quarantine their own families when they returned home from each shift to try to stop the spread.
In addition to the emotional toll of COVID-19, Rosser and her husband experienced financial stress.
She estimates that revenue for Cherry House, the bed and breakfast they run, has dropped by nearly 70 percent.
“Australia was blocked from traveling abroad just as the tourist season started and we had nothing but cancellations,” he said.
“The British have their own problems and that’s why we haven’t seen them either.
“Unfortunately, apart from an Italian couple and another family group from Belgium, all reservations were canceled.”
Italy is now in its second major blockade, which Rosser describes as “less draconian than the first.”
“We managed pretty well this time, as we know what to expect,” he said.
“There was a great sense of calm and no panic, no panic buying toilet rolls, but hand sanitizer and masks.
“It is very rare to see someone without a mask and they maintain social distancing.”
Rosser said that despite the pandemic, it has not all been bad news for Italy’s tourism industry with a shift towards local tourism giving cities previously overrun by tourists an opportunity to regroup.
“The air everywhere seems cleaner,” he said, adding that “places like Venice are amazing.”
She said she and her husband remain optimistic, pointing to bookings made by future travelers for August 2021.
“We see a ray of light at the end of the tunnel and we hope it is not a train heading our way,” he said.
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