American living in northern Italy describes life under quarantine: 'It's a huge sacrifice but everyone is doing it'

Pat Leiter said areas, typically bustling with activity, are ghost towns.

March 10, 2020, 6:41 PM

Pat Leiter, an American living in Bolzano, northern Italy, was returning home from London, where she was on vacation, when the coronavirus outbreak occurred.

"We thought, 'OK, our region is not under lockdown. We'll go back,'" she told ABC News on Tuesday. "So, we returned and within three hours ... the quarantine was put into place."

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On Tuesday, Italy reported 168 more deaths due to coronavirus, with fatalities now more than 600. With more than 10,000 confirmed cases of the novel coronavirus, Italy currently has the highest national total behind China, which has reported more than 80,000 confirmed infections.

People wear face masks on the train on March 10, 2020, Milan, Italy.
Vittorio Zunino Celotto/Getty Images

The Italian government put the entire country -- and its 60 million people -- on lockdown Monday in an effort to contain the newly identified virus, known officially as COVID-19.

"This morning, we woke up and we read all the rules (of the lockdown.) And, one of the rules was you can't go shopping... unless for food. And since we had been away for so long, I want to the grocery store," said Leiter, who is married to an Italian from the region and has lived in Italy for more than 25 years.

She sent ABC News video from inside the supermarket. She said she was "surprised" when she got to the market.

She said in the shopping market, customers were being asked to stand 1 meter (more than 3 feet) apart from each other -- on lines marked in red -- while they waited to check out. She showed ABC News a red line where consumers were also asked to stand behind the line and call out their orders to the butchers.

Leiter said the Italian government had assured residents that the shelves would remain stocked but that it had asked residents not to just buy up the store.

In another video, she entered an empty H&M clothing store quickly and then left.

"I should leave because one is not supposed to do any shopping that is unnecessary," she told ABC News.

Leiter took ABC News to a popular shopping strip -- now empty but for a few pedestrians -- in Bolzano.

I have to say that even though it's a great hardship, people think it's the right thing to do.

"It is amazing how the quarantine really does change your life," she said.

No travel is allowed for most, unless it's for work or an approved reason.

Under the quarantine, which remains in effect until April 3, Italians are forbidden from gathering in public places, restaurants have to close at 6 p.m., shopping centers -- except for pharmacies and food markets -- must be closed on the weekends and sporting events are canceled. People can't be within a meter of each other, Leiter said.

"I went to the fruit market to get something and honestly the fruit market is such a bustling place. ... It's full of people and there were perhaps four people. I went to my cheese stand. I spoke with the lady. She said, 'Yeah, I mean, nobody is coming because people are really trying to follow the rules. If they don't have to go out, they don't.' ... I have to say that even though it's a great hardship, people think it's the right thing to do. They think it's the only way to stop it (coronavirus spread.)"

In the main square where tourists and residents gather in Bolzano, she said, she saw two people sitting at a table even though stores were open.

"It was a really sort of like ghost town," she said.

A picture taken on March 10, 2020, shows a deserted Via del Corso shopping street near Piazza del Popolo in Rome.
Tiziana Fabi/AFP via Getty Images

"The quarantine is really being obeyed. ... Italy has a very old population ... and we care about the elderly. We care about the people that have a weak immune system or other illnesses. It's a huge sacrifice but everyone is doing it. I think it is worth it. No matter how hard it is," she said.

"It's a new world and I guess people will get used to it and hopefully this will eradicate or at least lessen drastically the spread of the virus," she said. "It's a new life under quarantine. Definitely not fun but definitely acknowledged as a way to stop the virus from spreading."

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