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Under Quarantine, WhatsApp Becomes Teaching Tool

A group of residents gather in San Fiorano, one of the towns on lockdown because of a coronavirus outbreak, in this picture taken by schoolteacher Marzio Toniolo in San Fiorano, Italy, Feb. 25, 2020.

Primary school teacher Marzio Toniolo would usually spend his weekday mornings cycling to work and teaching children in the small, quiet northern Italian town of San Fiorano.

Now, he is one of around 50,000 people whose lives are on hold after they were placed under quarantine as Italy tries to contain Europe's worst outbreak of coronavirus that flared up in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

Shops are shut, the bar is closed and people speak to each other from a safe distance.

"We told my grandpa 100 times that the bar is not open because of the Spanish flu, to make him understand," Toniolo told Reuters, referring to the deadly disease that killed millions after World War I.

"He is very angry and very old," he added.

Closed off

San Fiorano is 70 km (44 miles) from Italy's financial capital, Milan, and has effectively been closed off from the outside world along with nine neighboring towns.

Toniolo lives with his grandparents, who are both in their

80s; his wife, Chiara Zuddas; and their 2-year-old daughter.

"We can take walks, we can walk our dogs, we can go jogging, we can ride bikes, but the authorities have suggested that we should avoid contact with other people," he said.

Police blocks were put at the entrance to the town, and anyone who tries to escape the blockade faces up to three months in prison or a fine of up to 206 euros ($223).

Zuddas is a primary school teacher, too, and she has created a WhatsApp group to keep in touch with her students.

"Even if they are very young, I understood that they needed to hear from us and we needed to hear from them. I didn't do this to carry on with the school program, but to maintain human contact," she said. "Next Wednesday, I am going to do an English exam via WhatsApp."

Checking temperatures

The family members regularly test their temperatures with a thermometer to make sure none is falling ill, and they are counting down the days left in the two-week quarantine.

"We know that we may be infected and that we may already have contracted the coronavirus," said Toniolo, adding that they were watching 24-hour television news stations to stay informed.

"Let's hope everything will be fine. I have friends who have contracted the coronavirus these days, but they already feel better," he said. "They told me not to worry."