‘There are very few people’: Milan tries to get back to normal amid coronavirus fears

Milan's Duomo cathedral reopened its gates to tourists again on Monday, as the Italian financial capital tried to get back to work following the coronavirus outbreak.

'There are very few people': Milan tries to get back to normal amid coronavirus fears
Milan's Duomo on Monday. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Yet fears over COVID-19 still haunted a region where 38 of the 52 deaths have occurred in Europe's third largest economy since February 22.

Visitors were allowed into the Duomo – along with the city's main museums – only on a quota basis as authorities sought to stem overcrowding to lower the odds of the virus spreading.

READ ALSO: Should I cancel my trip to Italy because of the coronavirus?

There were few reasons for the extra precautions: the number of reporters who descended on Milan's most renown tourist site easily outnumbered the tourists and locals milling on its central square.

“There are very few people inside the Duomo,” Japanese tourists Isamu Ohashi said after a 30-minute stroll across its famed marble floors.

Milan's Duomo was unusually quiet on Monday. Photo: AFP

“I could enjoy the Duomo with fewer people than normal. So personally, I was a little bit lucky,” the 24-year-old said with a shy laugh.

“But this situation is very difficult for the government,” Ohashi added.

Recession looms

A few short blocks from the main square, Italy's main index on the Milan Stock Exchange was down three percent by mid-afternoon.

It extended a week of losses triggered by fears that measures aimed at stamping out the virus were also suffocating economic activity and disrupting global supply chains.

Italy's sluggish economy is now at risk of recession caused by the emergence of the new viral strain that first appeared in China at the end of last year.

“In the best scenario for Italy, we expect zero growth (in 2020) with a negative first quarter followed by a slow recovery,” OECD chief economist Laurence Boone said.

Economy Minister Roberto Gualtieri promised Sunday to inject 3.6 billion euros ($4.0 billion) into businesses most affected by the slowdown.

Red zone

Italy is now officially divided into three coronavirus zones.

The “red zone” in Italy's north covers 11 municipalities and 50,000 people and has been placed under quarantine.

The second “yellow” zone contains Milan and the province of Lombardy, and also includes the
Veneto region of Venice and Bologna's Emilia-Romagna.

Schools and universities there will remain closed at least until the end of the week.

A police checkpoint outside one of the quarantined towns in the “red zone”. Photo: AFP

The surrounding ski resorts will stay open on the condition that the lifts are only operated at one-third capacity.

Major sporting and cultural events are being suspended and theatres, including Milan's grand La Scala opera house, remain closed. Milan's nightclubs are also shuttered.

The third zone covers the rest of the country.

Restrictions in cities are set on a case-by-case basis, and have turned tourism into a hit-and-miss affair in hotspot cities.

MAP: Which parts of Italy are affected by coronavirus outbreak?

Rome's Church of St Louis of the French – home to paintings by the Baroque master Caravaggio – closed Sunday because one of its priests tested positive after returning to France.

The government's approach has not been universally well-received.

One lay Catholic social service organisation criticised the number of churches that have been closed in Italy's north.

“Churches are being grouped together with cinemas and theatres,” said Andrea Riccardi, founder of the Community of Saint'Egidio.

“Churches are not only places for gathering but also a spiritual place, a resource in a difficult time.”
It was a view shared on the vast but empty square in front of the Duomo.

It is important for the cathedral to reopen,” visitor Ivano Caiola said. “It is useless to open a supermarket and not reopen a church.”

Find all The Local's coverage of the coronavirus outbreak in Italy here

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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].”