British friends held in Italy 'powerless' after 45 days of forced quarantine

Three British friends being held against their will in an Italian quarantine facility fear there is no end in sight after testing positive for coronavirus for six weeks straight.

Will Castle, 22, Rhys James, 23 and Quinn Paczesny, 20 have been self-isolating for 45 days after initially coming down with Covid-19 on August 17.

The trio must test negative twice 24 hours apart before they can be released under the rules of the Italian system – a policy that has been criticised by scientists who say swabs can pick up dead Covid-19 cells in recovered patients, resulting in false positives.

The group dubbed the ‘Florence Three’ were dealt another blow today after their seventh round of test results were delayed for the second day in a row due to a machine malfunction.

Will, from West Sussex, said although the news was frustrating he wasn’t holding out hope for a negative test result and fears being trapped in his tiny hotel room for many more months.

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He said little had changed since speaking to about his ordeal two weeks ago, with the group feeling ‘powerless and drained’.

‘When we first went public with the story I was feeling galvanised that something might happen,’ he told

‘But the situation hasn’t changed at all. It’s very difficult to stay optimistic when it feels like there’s no hope of getting out and the test results are not what they should be.

‘We don’t know how much to trust the system. We are looking into private testing, we want to know if the results are accurate.

‘If the cost is excessive we won’t be able to do it, one of us is a student and two of us are unemployed.’

Will and his friends were teaching English at a summer camp in Florence when they became infected six weeks ago.

They have missed the start of the university term and are unable to apply for jobs as they don’t know when they will be allowed to come home.

None have symptoms of coronavirus and all feel physically healthy.

Although they are in the same quarantine facility they aren’t allowed to leave their rooms at all, even for exercise, and say the enforced isolation is taking a toll on their mental wellbeing.

‘It’s draining. The thing that has developed for me is just general apathy. I am struggling to find a distraction method that works,’ said Will.

‘We are still not allowed to leave our rooms, We feel completely powerless, there is nothing we are given control over.

‘The doctor can come and do health checks when they want, the cleaner can come in whenever they want, there’s no routine or consistency.

‘People have said that’s a prisoner of war tactic. I would like some routine for my sanity more than anything else.’

Will said the outpouring of support from the public since the group came forward with their story had been ‘amazing’.

However, the decision to release him and his friends lies in the hands of the Italian authorities, who are yet to budge.

‘I have tried to avoid the prison comparison. At the same time we are not allowed to leave and we don’t know how long our sentence is going to be, so the comparison is there,’ said WIll.

The British embassy in Rome has said it can’t interfere in local measures to control the spread of the virus but that it is supporting the three men with food, rooms and medical issues.

But Will claims even after this intervention meals haven’t greatly improved and rarely contain vegetables or protein, with his friend being given a ‘plate of potatoes’ on one occasion.

Why do some people test positive for coronavirus more than once?

Scientists warned earlier this month that the main test used to diagnose coronavirus is so sensitive it could be picking up fragments of dead virus from old infections.

Experts found that despite coronavirus only being infectious for around a week, the tests used to diagnose the disease could still show a positive reading for weeks after the patient has recovered.

Professor Carl Heneghan, one of the study’s authors, said instead of giving a ‘yes/no’ result based on whether any virus is detected, tests should have a cut-off point so that very small amounts of virus do not trigger a positive result.

However, other epidemiologists argue there is ‘not enough certainty’ about how long the virus remains infectious during the recovering period.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) advises against requiring two negative tests before releasing people from quarantine, warning this could result in ‘long periods of isolation…affecting individual well-being’.

Their guidelines, which are followed in the UK, state patients who test positive should self-isolate for 10 days, after which the virus is no longer thought to be infectious.

A Foreign, Commonwealth and Development Office Spokesperson (FCDO) said: ‘FCDO Consulate staff are supporting three British men in quarantine in Italy  and are in regular contact with them. 

‘The length of quarantine is based on local measures to control the spread of  Covid-19, but we have raised concerns about their food, rooms and medical issues directly with the Italian authorities, and will continue to do all we can to help them while complying with local requirements.’ has contacted Italian health authorities for comment.

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