‘Florence Three’: why a group of friends have been stuck in self-isolation in Italy for 7 weeks - and why they’re still testing positive for Covid-19

On average, a mild bout of Covid-19 takes a couple of weeks to recover from. So why is it taking so long for the ‘Florence Three’?

Monday, 5th October 2020, 1:36 pm

Three friends who have been forced to isolate in an Italian hotel continue to test positive for Covid-19, nearly 50 days after it was first confirmed they had contracted the virus.

Self-dubbed the 'Florence Three', the trio had been teaching in the northern Italian city.

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(Photo: Rhys James)

Here is everything you need to know.

Who are the Florence Three?

The three men - Rhys James, 23, Quinn Paczesny, 20, and Will Castle, 22 - flew to northern Italy in July to spend the summer teaching, before going travelling.

Symptoms first developed among the group when two of them started feeling unwell in Venice.

(Photo: Rhys James)

Taking the initiative, they self-isolated in Airbnb accommodation for a few days, before travelling on to Florence.

It was there that they decided to head to the hospital to receive a test.

"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, who works as a travel rep for TUI, told the BBC.

In the first few months of the pandemic, Italy was one of the worst affected countries in Europe, and imposed stringent lockdown restrictions in the hopes of quashing the virus' spread.

The country is understandably keen to avoid another wave of infections, and officials remain on high alert.

The friends were told they were the first confirmed cases in the city for months.

They have been quarantining in separate rooms of a converted hotel used for isolating patients since 17 August.

Why are they still testing positive?

According to the World Health Organisation (WHO), the average time it takes for someone to recover from a mild case of Covid-19 is approximately two weeks.

So why are the three friends still testing positive nearly seven weeks on?

According to Dr Bharat Pankhania, a senior clinical lecturer at Exeter University medical school, the tests could be picking up "remnants" of the virus.

He told The Times that the men were unlikely to still be infectious, saying: "My assertion is that this is not an active virus — this is bits and pieces of it.”

Dr Pankhania confirmed the tests could keep coming back positive for months.

"We've had five swab tests now," Mr James said, "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."

How will they get home?

It's not all pyjama days and Netflix binges - their mental health has been under immense strain.

"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," said Mr James.

"We are completely isolated, food is delivered to the door at lunch and dinner time; we get three plastic tubs."

Under Italian laws brought in to try to minimise the spread of coronavirus, two negative tests are required before a person can leave their mandatory isolation.

The group have been told that they can leave if they sign a "legal contract" to isolate at another Italian address, but none of the trio have any contacts in Italy.

So they're calling on their local MPs to lobby the Foreign and Commonwealth Office and the Italian government.

Mr James told the BBC he could see planes taking off from Florence airport from their windows, and just wanted to get home and see their families.

Simon Hart, the secretary of state for Wales and MP for James’ constituency of Carmarthen West and South Pembrokeshire, said: "We are asking the Foreign Office if it can help in providing alternative accommodation and with getting a private Covid test done.”