If all goes well, James Bogart will start making his way home to South Surrey from Italy today (March 27).
The Elgin Park Secondary grad – who is with his girlfriend Emily Schenk, a Southridge School alumna – is in his second year of studies at Polimoda, a fashion school located in the centre of Florence, the capital of central Italy’s Tuscany region.
For nearly a month now, he’s been living in lockdown.
Thursday, Bogart shared some insights on how it has been to be immersed in the country that has been the world’s worst-hit by COVID-19 – in terms of total deaths, if not in total number of cases, which the U.S. recently took the lead on – since the virus was first reported in Wuhan, China in December.
In short, “it has not gotten easier,” he told Peace Arch News by email, as he readied to pack for the journey home.
Particularly disconcerting, he writes – and a sentiment echoed many times in recent days and weeks by those on the Semiahmoo Peninsula – is the tangible lack of urgency and self-responsibility among locals.
“There has been an eerie sense of complacency from the residents here in Florence,” Bogart said, reflecting on brief interactions he’s had during supervised, essential visits to the supermarkets.
“I am a firm believer of being a product of your environment – and to all ends, not just physical. This domino effect has transpired over the last month and a half throughout the entire country, leaving many feeling no sense of responsibility.
“A recently surfaced string of videos featuring Italian Mayors telling off their residents for ignoring strict lockdown rules whilst in the streets paints the picture I am describing of ‘complacency’ very accurately.”
In video clips shared by news outlets including CNN, officials are shown confronting or criticizing Italian residents who are doing things such as playing ping pong in a waterfront park, walking along city streets or being described as exploiting a lockdown exception that allows them to walk their pets.
“Don’t you understand that people are dying?” yells one mayor in an address, while another, noting word that some graduating students are planning to host a party, threatens to send police “with flame-throwers.” Yet another vows to “make everyone respect this decree.”
Bogart believes officials “should have been more diligent” in their law-making around the pandemic, and enforcement of those laws, from the get-go.
“There are still parks here in Florence filled with people out walking and sitting together leisurely, which is frightening knowing what could potentially happen to them,” he said.
On a positive note, the shared moments of singing, laughing and dancing on balconies “is the kind of pride that makes me feel overwhelmingly grateful for being apart of such a wonderful country.”
As of Friday, Italy had recorded more than 86,000 cases of COVID-19, including more than 9,100 deaths, and Bogart said for many international students, the reality of the situation has set in. He and Schenk made the decision last Sunday to try to come home.
The journey will involve a train and three planes, with touchdown in Vancouver anticipated for 9:30 p.m. Saturday (March 28).
On arrival, they’ll begin the 14-day self-isolation that the federal government has mandated for all returning travellers as of Wednesday (March 25).
Provincial health officer Dr. Bonnie Henry said Thursday that travellers without symptoms will be directed on arrival to self-isolation, and told how they can get to their place of residence.
“They will not be allowed to go on public transit,” she noted.
Bogart’s mom, Deanna, told PAN that arrangements have been made for her son to stay at a friend’s home that is currently empty for the duration of the self-isolation period, with meals delivered to his door.
She said her son is “absolutely prepared for another 14 days and coming out of Italy isn’t at all bothered – he understands how important it is.”
“Although as a mom – it is going to be really hard not to go to the airport and give him a big hug,” she said.
As Italy’s situation evolved and escalated, the family initially agreed it would be safer for the 20-year-old to stay in the European country, as travelling “seemed riskier than the safety of his apartment and military patrolled streets,” she said.
With border closures increasing, travel restrictions heightened and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s call for Canadian residents to return, however, Bogart made the call.
Deanna Bogart said her son’s hop-scotch journey home “totally underscores how important the 14-day isolation is for all of us.”
“Praying everyone takes it really seriously to slow the spread.
“All that said, he loves Italy and will go back to school once we all get through this – together.”