Coronavirus: Pembrokeshire man 'stuck' in Italian facility

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Image source, Rhys Williams
Image caption,
The friends tested positive for Covid-19 at a hospital in Florence in August and have been in isolation since

Three British friends who have been kept in isolation in an Italian coronavirus facility for a month say they are desperate to get home.

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

Mr James said they were put in separate rooms, and told they could not leave until they had two negative tests.

The Foreign Office said it was assisting them.

But Mr James, from Pembrokeshire, said the group had not had any direct contact with any government officials, and needed help to get home.

The 23-year-old, from Pembroke Dock, Mr Paczesny, from Sheffield, and Mr Castle, from Brighton, have been separated since they tested positive for Covid-19 in Florence on 17 August.

"None of us have had any symptoms since two days after we were tested," said Mr James.

"We have to be in separate rooms, we can't go in the hallway, and we are not even allowed to stick our heads out of the window."

Image source, Rhys James
Image caption,
The three friends have been moved to three different facilities and made to live apart

Mr James said the new friends were grateful they were well, and had tried to stay positive by calling each other at meal times, and taking up yoga.

But he said the group were struggling, as they could see planes taking off from Florence airport from their windows, and just wanted to get home and see their families.

"We have had days where we don't even want to speak to each other, because we have been quite upset," he said.

Image source, Rhys James
Image caption,
Will, Rhys and Quinn heading to their rooms in the first facility before being separated for a month

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 symptoms in Venice, the trio isolated in an Airbnb for a few days, before travelling to Florence, unpacking and going to the hospital to be tested.

"From the start the symptoms lasted for four days, and then on the last day we decided to go to the hospital in Florence and get tested," he said.

"We were kept in overnight, we had quite a lot of tests, and at about 4am the next day, the three of us were told we were positive for the virus."

Mr James said the doctors and nurses were shocked, and told them they were the first confirmed cases in the city for months, before placing them in a converted hotel used for isolating patients.

"We are completely isolated, food is delivered to the door at lunch and dinner time; we get three plastic tubs," said Mr James, who has Coeliac Disease, and said he kept being given food he could not eat, and was not allowed to have food delivered.

Image source, Rhys James
Image caption,
The friends say they are getting mixed messages from officials

The group have swab tests done once a week, but have been told they need to have two consecutive negative tests - or a double negative - before they can leave the hotel rooms.

"We've had five swab tests now, and they've all tested positive. But we have had two doctors come and tell us that we are no longer contagious. We are getting so many mixed messages," he said.

Mr James said the group were not being told test results, and had not seen any paperwork telling them their rights.

One doctor had told them they could leave if they signed a "legal contract" to isolate at an Italian address until they had two negative tests, he said.

"But we don't have any contacts in Italy to do that, we are stuck," he said.

Image source, Rhys James
Image caption,
The group had been enjoying travelling around Italy when they tested positive

"It's been quite tough, on the fifth day we were arguing with the doctors just fighting to try and stay together, just for the sake of our emotional wellbeing," he added.

"We just assumed it would be like the UK, where you get the positive test and then you isolate in an apartment. It feels like they are looking at us as three British lads on a holiday, but we were actually education staff in Italy."

Mr James said his family were worried, and while the group had asked the embassy to translate documents, they were concerned they would be stuck in isolation unless the Foreign Office intervened. A spokesman for the Foreign Office said: "We are assisting three British men hospitalised in Italy, and are in contact with the hospital they were admitted to."

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