TORONTO -- Around the world, normally bustling cities are coming to a standstill as governments mandate strict lockdowns amid the widening COVID-19 pandemic.

In recent weeks, a number of European nations have followed China’s lead and ordered their citizens to hole up at home and keep away from each other.

After China, where the novel coronavirus originated, Italy is the country with the second highest number of cases of COVID-19. Last week, the populous country entered into a near-total lockdown, with residents told to stay inside their homes unless for work, healthcare, or “necessities” such as grocery shopping.

On Saturday, Spain declared a two-week state of emergency, which allows the government to limit free movement, confiscate goods, and take control over industries and private facilities.

Other countries that have announced lockdown measures include France, Iran, Denmark, and Israel. In the U.S., governors in California, Illinois, and Ohio have asked all restaurants and bars to close or reduce the number of customers allowed in at a time. New York City is shutting the country’s largest public school system.

While Europe has replaced China as the new epicentre of the pandemic, Canada’s number of confirmed cases of the virus has been steadily rising with some experts predicting the peak is yet to come.

Although the Canadian government hasn’t employed drastic measures yet, the experience of those who are already in lockdown provides a glimpse of what life may be like should they follow suit.

‘A ghost town’

With schools closed, restaurants shuttered, and tourists nowhere in sight, Canadian Jasmine Mah said life in Bergamo, Italy, where she has lived for the past five years, has become “surreal.”

“[It’s] exactly like a movie. It’s a ghost town,” she told CTV News Channel on Sunday. “There’s not actually a single soul out. You can’t even hear anything and that just makes the sound of sirens going by that much more eerie.”

She said the streets have mostly quieted, except for at 6 p.m. every evening when people take to their balconies to play music and sing together.

Sherraine Schalm, a Canadian living in Verona, Italy with her husband and two daughters, said her family is only allowed to leave their home if they have a good reason and accompanying paperwork saying as much. She said they have to fill out a form with all of their information and the reason why they’re out in public in case they’re stopped by police.

“They’re being quite strict,” she said.

While she hasn’t been stopped herself, Schalm said friends of hers were stopped while they were walking their dog because they were standing too close to each other.

Another Canadian, Carmen Lee, has been going “stir crazy” as she waits out two weeks in quarantine in Barcelona, Spain after she tested positive for COVID-19. The young woman, who moved to Barcelona in June after graduating from the University of Calgary, said she has been confined to her bedroom so as not to infect her roommates.

“I can’t leave this room. Only to use the bathroom which is just outside my room,” she told CTV News Calgary on Sunday. “I’m eating out of a bag of food that is delivered to my door and I bring it in here and I eat it.”

In Spain, people who are outside in public without a good reason can face fines starting at US$100.

Lee cautioned Canadians to take social distancing seriously, especially younger individuals who may not be as worried about the virus.

“People out there who think they’re going to be OK from this because they are young and healthy, not only is that irresponsible if you’re not taking care, because you are going to pass it on to people who will be affected, but you’re also not invincible,” she warned.


While reports of people hoarding toilet paper and clearing out grocery store shelves in North America made headlines around the world, Schalm said that hasn’t been the case in Italy under lockdown. She said residents are allowed to leave their homes to make trips to the supermarket, which have been mostly stocked.

“It’s been zero problem,” she said. “I think there was one day when a few supermarkets in Milan were missing the meat, the fresh meat in their department, but otherwise, everything has been available,” she said.

Mah said she didn’t have to stockpile any supplies because Italian residents are still allowed to make trips to the grocery store and pharmacy. Instead, she prepared for the lockdown by making sure she was able to work from home and had enough activities and entertainment to pass the time.

Harry and Joan Fehr, a couple from Manitoba who are visiting Italy for a few months, said they haven’t had any problems purchasing supplies they need in Rome.

“If you want to buy something in a shop, you line up outside, six feet apart, but there’s no rushing. There’s no pushing. There’s no nothing,” Harry Fehr told CTV News Channel on Sunday.

Online school

With schools around the world closing their doors, including many in Canada, educators have been going online to ensure children can keep up with their studies.

In Verona, Italy, Sherraine Schalm said her two school-aged daughters have been receiving their homework assignments online. The Canadian said teachers are sending clear weekly assignments to their students.

“The teachers do a great job of sending out the homework that’s separated into days, how much to do per day and which activities to do,” she said.

With files from The Associated Press