Coronavirus: Italy’s tourism industry reports ‘worst crisis in recent history’ after outbreak

Representatives of Italy's tourism industry have warned that “generalised panic” over coronavirus could “sink” the tourism sector, as up to 90 percent of bookings for March are cancelled in some parts of the country.

Coronavirus: Italy's tourism industry reports 'worst crisis in recent history' after outbreak
People outside Milan's cathedral, whch is currently closed to visitors. Photo: AFP

200 million euros' worth of travel and acommodation bookings have been cancelled in March since the outbreak began a week ago, reports Italian tourism association Assoturismo Confesercenti.

“In recent history Italian tourism has never experienced a crisis like this,” Vittorio Messina, National President of Assoturismo, stated in a press release. “It is the darkest moment. Not even 9/11 affected it so heavily.”

The figure, based on data from Italy's hotels, B&Bs and travel agencies, doesn't count lost tourist revenue for transport, tour guides, bars, restaurants and shops.

Bookings are also “sharply down” until June, reported Assoturismo.

While many of the cancellations were in regions heavily affected by the recent outbreak, the drop in visitor numbers is also hitting areas where few or no cases have been reported.

Photo: AFP

“The sector – which is worth about 13 percent of Italian GDP – risks sinking”, Messina said.

“If the situation of generalised panic continues, thousands of businesses, especially small ones, will first enter a liquidity crisis, then close their doors,” he continued. “We urgently need to work towards normalisation.”

READ ALSO: How safe is it to visit Italy after the coronavirus outbreak?

The region of Lombardy, the area worst-hit bu the outbreak, reported that tourism in the region is “on its knees”.

“In a few days, the coronavirus emergency has plunged one of the most important sectors in our region into crisis,” said Francesca Brianza, Vice-President of Lombardy's Regional Council.

“The tourism industry here is seeing a dramatic drop of over 40 percent.”

90 percent of all bookings in Rome were reportedly cancelled, and 80 percent in Sicily, according to Assoturismo.

The region of Lazio, which includes Rome, has had only three cases of coronavirus – and all are now recovered. Sicily has three confirmed cases.

MAP: Which regions of Italy are most affected by the coronavirus outbreak?

The report stated that the worst-hit areas are expected to be Italy's so-called “art cites”, such as Florence, Venice, and Rome, which get the highest proportion of visitors from abroad – making up about half of the total.

However Italians, too, are widely expected to stay at home amid fears of the virus spreading.

While 12 people have now died and over 500 cases of coronavirus have been confirmed across Italy, authorities say there is no reason to fear visiting the country.

Italian foreign minister Luigi di Maio on Thursday stressed that it's safe to visit the country, saying: “Children are going to school in most Italian regions, and if they can go to the classroom tourists and entrepreneurs can still come to Italy.”

Twelve regions have reported at least one case of the virus, including Sicily at the country's southern tip.

But Di Maio insisted: “Out of over 7,000 towns in Italy, just over a dozen are affected by this epidemic.”

He said Italy had more cases than other European countries because it was performing mass tests — over 11,000 so far, which caught positive cases that did not, however, result in illness.

A positive result does not mean a person is contagious.

Italy was “reliable and transparent”, Di Maio said, adding it was being unfairly penalised by holidaymakers cancelling trips to Milan's Gothic Duomo or the canal city of Venice over fears they might catch the virus.

No government has yet imposed a travel ban on Italy.

The country's international borders remain open, and the only systematic flight restrictions are on direct flights between Italy and China, which were suspended at the end of January.

The only no-go areas in Italy are a handful of small towns in northern Italy, where authorities have ordered a lockdown to help contain the virus.

A woman takes a selfie in Milan. Photo: AFP

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”