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Travel continues in and out of northern Italy despite coronavirus lockdown

Travelling into and out of northern Italy was continuing by rail, road and air on Monday – despite a government lockdown that was meant to isolate the area in the grip of a coronavirus outbreak.

Travel continues in and out of northern Italy despite coronavirus lockdown
Passengers at Milan's Central Station, where trains continue to operate. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Airlines including EasyJet, Ryanair, British Airways were still serving airports in Milan and Venice — the region's two biggest transport hubs — even as all three companies announced fresh cuts to their flight schedules serving northern Italy.

The government on Sunday imposed sweeping measures to restrict travel in the prosperous north, the centre of Italy's virus outbreak. Travel is allowed only for compelling reasons such as work or medical need — and for those who had been in the region temporarily to return home.

Officials promised to set up checkpoints to enforce the measures, which are backed by fines of more than €200 ($230).

READ ALSO: What you need to know about the new coronavirus measures in Italy

On a main road leading out of the city of Modena — inside the exclusion zone — AFP saw controls come into effect on Monday afternoon, with at least one car being turned back.

But there was some concern about whether the checks are rigorous enough.

“I find it a bit pointless to establish a red zone if you can get in and out freely,” said 21-year-old courier Jonuzi Agron. “If I go to Bologna from Modena and no one controls me I can infect anyone.”

Rail operator Trenitalia has made changes to its schedules but is still running services in and out of the region.

At Milan's central train station on Monday passengers had to queue up at special checkpoints staffed by soldiers and police.

“I'm about to leave this city because I'm afraid to be here,” said 20-year-old student Adriana from Belarus as she made her way to her train.

READ ALSO: 'You can feel the anxiety in the air': 15 million Italians get to grips with quarantine


Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Airlines had already been cutting routes in recent weeks and national carrier Alitalia said it would stop flying from Milan's Malpensa airport. An AFP photographer at Malpensa said the terminal was virtually deserted on Monday morning.

However, domestic flights from the city's Linate airport would continue, Alitalia said.

Ryanair said on Monday it was reducing services in part because many passengers were not turning up for flights they had booked.

But the airline said it wanted to maintain some services to Italy “to bring home” foreigners in Lombardy and other virus-hit regions.

Linate airport's website was showing a spate of cancellations, while at Malpensa where flights were still scheduled to take off, one cafe worker said the effect on the airport has been worse than the September 11 attacks in the
United States.

READ ALSO:

Rail passengers told AFP their identity documents were being checked on arrival to make sure they were residents of Milan.

Travellers venturing in or out of the new zone are meant to present “self-certifications” of their reasons for travel, which officials say can then be checked at further checkpoints.There will also be temperature checks for passengers at train station entrances and exits.

Checks are also being introduced for cruise ships at Venice port. Passengers “will not be able to disembark to visit the city but can transit only in order to return to their place of residence or countries of origin”.

But the more stringent quarantine measures which were imposed last month around 11 areas considered to be the centres of the outbreak have now been partially lifted, according to officials in Codogno, one of the towns affected.

Massimo Galli, the head of a team of doctors from the Biomedical Research Institute in Milan who identified the Italian strain last month, told AFP that the lifting of those measures “makes no sense”.

“These measures need to be in place for longer in order for the sacrifice they have made [being under lockdown] to be effective,” he said.

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

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COVID-19

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].”

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