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No COVID-19 checks for Spanish students returning from northern Italy

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No COVID-19 checks for Spanish students returning from northern Italy
Copyright  LaPresse   -   Claudio Furlan/LaPresse
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A number of Spanish students studying in northern Italy say they have not been subject to COVID-19 coronavirus screenings upon returning home.

As of Thursday, 400 cases and 12 deaths from COVID-19 have been confirmed in Italy - the largest number in Europe.

They were based in Milan, which is Lombardy, one of the hardest-hit regions in the country's coronavirus outbreak.

'Everyone wrote to me as if it was the apocalypse'

Marta Muñoz, 23, is an Erasmus student studying architecture in Milan. She flew home to Barcelona on Wednesday in response to the alarm over the outbreak in northern Italy.

Last Saturday, she was already in Barcelona for a few days of holiday, which is when the news about Italy's cases began to break.

She was due to fly back to Milan the following day, telling Euronews she thought twice about taking the trip.

But three days later, an announcement from the university saying it was suspending classes drove Marta to return to Spain.

She said: "I was alone there, my closest circle had left Milan and we also didn't have class.

"Everyone wrote to me from Spain as if this were the apocalypse, my family was worried and they told me to come back, so I bought a ticket back to Barcelona."

Speaking about security protocols, Marta said she was subjected to a temperature check upon entering Italy last weekend, but there was nothing when she left later in the week.

"Now everything is uncertain, the university sends us emails every day to keep us informed about the situation," she said.

"They are considering the possibility that we continue at home and do online classes."

'I think we'll be a month without face-to-face classes'

Marta's story is similar to that of Raúl Villalba. The master's degree student is studying mechanical engineering at the Politecnico di Milano University and returned to the Italian city on Saturday.

His holiday had finished and he was ready to resume classes on Monday. But with the first cases of COVID-19 beginning to appear, he purchased a ticket just 24 hours later back to Spain.

In this case, Raúl said he brought a low-cost bus fare and, like Marta, was not subject to a temperature check.

He currently has no return date planned, and told Euronews: "I think we will be at least one month without face-to-face classes, that is the decision they are thinking from the university."

The Ministry of Universities does not have data on how many Spanish students are currently located in the three regions of northern Italy on alert for the virus, but the number is expected to be in the hundreds.

The latest official figures are from last year (2017-2018) and indicate that some 8,487 Spanish Erasmus students were in Italy.

Quarantine fears

Back in Spain, the students have not yet received recommendations or instructions from the Spanish authorities or from the universities themselves. Both have - by their own will - contacted the health service in their region.

Marta says that when they called her they informed her the system was saturated and they did not answer her question until the next day.

She said: "When they treated me, they gave me no indication, all they told me was that if I had no symptoms, I didn't have to do anything."

In the case of her roommate, a Spaniard living with her in Milan who is presenting symptoms, the authorities did collect samples for testing.

They have not yet sent him the results.

Raul, on the other hand, had doubts about contacting the health service.

He said: "I wanted to call, but at the same time I thought: what a job if they now put me in quarantine.

"I thought there was a possibility that they would automatically put me in isolation, and not knowing what it was, I was afraid of being with people infected with coronavirus and becoming infected."

The student said health authorities should give more information so that people who return from an area declared "at risk" are not afraid to inform the health services about their situation.

But Spain's ministry of health has said that each region is responsible for its own protocol against the coronavirus.

Health competencies are assigned to the autonomous community, which is why the ministry is only responsible for giving guidelines and preventive measures.

In addition, the ministry does not have centralised information.

"We do not even know the number of possible infected cases that may exist in each community," it said.

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