This summer, my organization ACCESS Health International welcomed an intern who worked with us remotely from Europe. She attends university in Milan, where she witnessed one of the earliest and most devastating Covid-19 outbreaks. In late July, she took a train to France to spend the summer with her family. She kindly agreed to share her experiences traveling with me, which I now share with you, below.
With the current scenario and situation, I was personally very anxious and nervous to travel to Arles to reunite with my family. However, I decided to continue with my journey as I was somewhat convinced that Italy would have safe measures and precautions implemented given their encounter with the Covid before anyone else in Europe. Nonetheless, one can never be too cautious so after packing my Covid essentials (masks, gloves, sanitizers), I made my way to the train station in the early morning.
It was nice to see the adjustment made by the authorities in terms of compliance with the standard Covid-19 prevention guidelines: hand sanitizers placed at almost every corner of the train station and its shops, posters and signs hung on every wall, reminding us of the safety precautions we needed to take — mandatory 2 meter space, etc.. All this made sense especially given that Italy was Europe’s epicenter.
After picking up breakfast at the station, I made my way to the train. Some seats on the train were marked off, so that no two passengers could sit next to each other. While the intention was there, for every batch of four seats, they allowed two people to sit diagonally from each other, which is too close to be safe. Wearing a mask was mandatory and there were constant announcements made on how wearing a mask is an obligation rather than a choice, which somewhat helped calm my nerves on traveling. As I sat on the train, going along the Italian coast, I saw beaches filled with people with no mask in sight. While I understand that it is hot, it is not an excuse to ignore safety regulations.
At the French border, the train stopped so that authorities could carry out documentations check. Four customs officers came onto the wagon, of which just one was wearing a face mask. I still do not understand how that was possible. As ridiculous as it sounds, I held my breath as I showed them my ID. Once the train left Ventimiglia, I looked out to enjoy the view of the sea, only to be greeted with more crowded beaches. It seemed like it was just another summer, with no pandemic in sight.
I had to change trains in Nice. Because the first train was late, I had to rush to my connection, so I did not see much of the train station. But given what I had seen out of the window, I was happy to leave. The French regional train, just like the previous one, had seats which were marked with a cross so that no one would sit on them.
It was once I arrived in Marseille that the true horror began. I had to take one last train to finally make it to Arles, meaning I had to wait at the train station for an hour. Once I got off in Marseille, I could barely find my way through the crowd. Everyone was bumping into each other and only few were wearing a mask. And the ones who did wear one were getting weird looks. It was like WWII; the Germans never made it to the South, and neither did Covid.
The end of my journey was short. Since Arles is a small city, the crowds are much less impressive, but the idea is the same: Covid is not a concern.