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British teachers trapped in Italy quarantine happy to be home


A man who spent two months in isolation in an Italian coronavirus facility has spoken of his joy of being home with his family.

Britons Rhys James, 23, Quinn Paczesny, 20, and Will Castle, 22, had been teaching in northern Italy before they tested positive for Covid-19 in August.

Mr James is now back home in Pembroke Dock, Pembrokeshire, after Italian laws changed, allowing them to leave.

"It's just so lovely, I'm being treated like royalty," he said.

Mr James, Mr Paczesny, from Sheffield, and Mr Castle, from Brighton, had been kept in separate rooms in a facility in Florence since they tested positive.

They had been told they needed two consecutive negative tests - or a double negative - before they could leave the rooms.

Last Friday, after 61 days in separate hotel rooms, having food left outside their doors and staying in touch via video calls, Mr James was told the law had changed and he could leave.

"We were ecstatic, but it was quite underwhelming, it was just a phone call from reception saying 'you're free to go'," he said.

"We were just so happy to get out of there, telling our families was amazing."

After gathering their belongings from their hotel, on Saturday Mr James and Mr Paczesny flew back to the UK where they were greeted by their parents holding a "welcome home banner".

"It's been so lovely, they are treating me like royalty at the moment - we will see how long that lasts for," said Mr James, who has been staying with his family since arriving back.

"It's just all the little things, being able to cook, eat with my family, being able to walk up the garden, it's just a world of difference to what we had before."


Rhys James outside his family home

Mr James, who works as a travel rep for Tui, flew to Milan on 5 July to teach English at summer schools across northern Italy, before going travelling with his two new friends.

After two of the group developed mild symptoms in Venice, the trio isolated in rented accommodation for a few days, before travelling to Florence, unpacking and going to the hospital to be tested.

They tested positive and were separated and placed in a converted hotel used for isolating patients, and were told they could not even go into the hallway to speak to each other.


The three friends in an ambulance

Mr James, who has coeliac disease, had said he kept being given food he could not eat, and was not allowed to have food delivered.

The friends tried to stay positive by doing yoga and video calling each other at meal times.

"You were always told by doctors maybe you'll be able to leave tomorrow, and that was every single day for nine weeks," he said, adding it had felt like a prison.

"We felt on edge all the time, there was no privacy, you had random swab tests all the time, so you feel a bit like a lab rat, and there was no end date."

Every week after having a swab test the group would wait for the results, and last week after each finally getting one negative result they were hopeful of coming home.

But only Mr Castle got a double negative and was allowed to leave, while the other two tested positive and were facing another week in isolation, before the law changed.


Rhys James, Quinn Paczesny and Will Castle in the hospital

"We had a lot of support in Italy, I had a lawyer call my hotel room to say they were using our case to try and get the law changed," he said, adding the fact only one of them had got two negatives made no sense.

"Doctors and nurses visiting our rooms were saying they didn't agree with it, but they couldn't let us leave. It was so strict and surreal."


Mr James outside his house with a banner

Having only arrived home days before a Wales-wide lockdown begins at 18:00 BST on Friday, Mr James said he had been trying to have socially distanced catch-ups with loved ones while he could.

"I'm still adapting to being home. I'm quite an outgoing person, I went to the shop today and I felt nervous, and I've never had that sort of social anxiety before.

"The other two have said the same, we are still talking constantly on group chats, and we are all finding the same thing, being around other people is quite exhausting, it's quite nice that we can chat about the experience."


The three friends before they were separated

Mr James said the group - who had all lost weight and are struggling with reduced appetite since they got home - had faced criticism on social media, with people saying it was their own fault for going to Italy in the first place.

"People have said it's not like we were in a war dungeon or a prison cell, we know it wasn't the worst place in the world, but mentally it really took its toll," he said.

"We were forcing ourselves to sleep through the day just to make it go quicker, I'm getting very exhausted easily just talking all the time.

Mr James, who thanked doctors and nurses in Italy for looking after the group, said he would go back to Florence at some point, but maybe not for a couple of years.

"If there's one good thing to come out of this is I have made great friends," he said.

Source: BBC

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