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UPDATED: Is it no longer safe to visit Italy after the coronavirus outbreak?

UPDATED: Is it no longer safe to visit Italy after the coronavirus outbreak?
A waiter serves a cup of coffee at a cafe in downtown Rome on March 10, 2020. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
As Italy tries to stem the spread of coronavirus, many visitors have been cancelling travel plans amid confusion over health risks, quarantine measures and possible disruption. Here's the latest information.

The situation has rapidly changed in Italy since we first published this article, not least because Donald Trump has announced a travel ban on European countries including Italy.

Initially the message from Italian authorities to tourists was 'don't cancel your trip', but that was when the coronavirus outbreak was limited to a few small towns in the northern regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

But in recent days the crisis has worsened, with the number of confirmed cases surging along with the death toll – which is now the second highest in the world outside China.

As a result on Monday March 9th the Italy government imposed new draconian restrictions on movement and gatherings across the whole country. The national restrictions will run until April 3. 

The restrictions are essentially aimed at encouraging Italians to stay in their local area and reduce the risks of either catching or spreading the virus.

Only essential travel between towns or regions is allowed, meaning for health or work emergencies. So basically you cannot travel freely around Italy.

You can find out more about the quarantine rules here.

Tourist sites are closed, as are cinemas. Bars and restaurants are only allowed to open between 6am and 6pm if customers stay one metre apart.

Public transport such as buses and trains are still running, however. And flights out of Italy continue, though with cancellations.

So everyday normal life in Italy is not what it used to be and won't be until at least April.

So I should cancel my trip? 

This is a decision only you can take, of course, but many visitors have done just that in recent days.

Airlines have also forced the decision on tourists by cancelling scores of flights. British Airways, for example, have cancelled direct flights between the UK and Italy until April 4th.

Italy's borders are still officially open and while police are checking reasons for travelling internally, there is no suggestion they are checking people's reasons for entering Italy.

What about leaving Italy?

Currently not all of Italy's neighbours have closed borders with the country, although on Tuesday March 10th Austria and Slovenia announced they would impose border restrictions.

“We are putting in place an entry ban for people from Italy to Austria, unless they have a doctor's certificate,” Chancellor Sebastian Kurz told reporters. Austrians in Italy will be allowed to return as long as they agree to a two-week home quarantine, he added.

So essentially, any foreign national who wants to leave Italy can do so. However, you will likely face questions and even health checks either before you board the plan or on arrival.

Italian authorities are not forcing everyone to stay exactly where they are. The new decree only prevents people travelling for non-essential reasons.

Returning home, including to another country, is considered an essential reason. 

READ ALSO: 'Stay at home': What are Italy's coronavirus quarantine rules?

Even if you live in Italy, you should be allowed to leave.

According to the UK government, “British nationals remain able to depart Italy without restriction. Airports remain open throughout Italy.” 

What do countries advise?

Most countries are urging caution for those planning to visit Italy.

The US has issued a travel warning for Italy advising against all non-essential visits due to “widespread community transmission” of the coronavirus, and has warned against all travel to northern Italian regions of Lombardy and Veneto.

 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) “recommends that travellers avoid all non-essential travel to Italy,” stating that “there is limited access to adequate medical care in affected areas”.
 
It recommends anyone who has been to Italy to self-isolate for 14 days after returning to the US and anyone with flu-like symptoms to call ahead before seeking medical help.
 
 
 
The British government's Foreign and Commonwealth Office is now advising against all but essential travel to Italy.
 
“The FCO now advises against all but essential travel to Italy, due to an ongoing outbreak of coronavirus (COVID-19) and in line with various controls and restrictions imposed by the Italian authorities on 9 March,” it states.
 
The British government is now asking anyone who has returned to the UK from anywhere in Italy to “stay indoors and avoid contact with other people” even if they do not have symptoms.
 
 
Most other countries are also encouraging citizens to postpone travel to at least northern Italy, while some say returning passengers could face temperature checks or quarantine upon arrival.

A handful of countries, including Austria, Israel, India, Lebanon and the Czech Republic, have warned that they will deny entry to foreign nationals arriving from Italy.

So while in theory travel to Italy is not restricted, unless your flight route has been cancelled, it may cause problems on your return to your home country. Make sure you check with your government before travelling to find out what restrictions you could face.

It's worth noting that the World Health Organization (WHO) does not recommend that countries impose travel restrictions on affected areas, given that travel bans require valuable public resources to enforce and may discourage people from reporting new infections.

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

The Duomo in Milan was closed to visitors on Monday. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Has the coronavirus outbreak hurt tourism to Italy?

Italy's tourism industry has suffered immensely due to the coronavirus spread and it may take months to fully recover, depending on the evolution of the outbreak.

Even before the nationwide quarantine measures industry representatives are warning that Italian tourism is facing its “worst crisis in recent history” following widespread cancellations, with the loss of income for hotels, restaurants, and other businesses expected to spell trouble for Italy's economy.

Everything from the Colosseum and Vatican Museums to Pompeii is closed for the coming four weeks. (More info here)

The government expanded that list to include ski resorts in the Italian Alps on Monday.

The tourism sector's 13 percent contribution to Italy's GDP is expected to shrivel as a result.

READ ALSO: How the coronavirus outbreak is affecting Italy's economy

How can I protect myself from the coronavirus in Italy?

You should take the same precautions in Italy that you would anywhere else:

  • Wash hands thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth when coughing or sneezing.
  • Avoid close contact with people who have symptoms of respiratory illness.
  • Wear a mask if you suspect you are ill, or if you are assisting someone else who is ill.
  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.

Do not take any antibiotics or antiviral medication unless it's been prescribed to you by a doctor.

You don't need to worry about handling anything made or shipped from China, nor about catching coronavirus from (or giving it to) a pet.

You can find the latest information about the coronavirus in Italy from the Italian Health Ministry, your country's embassy, or the WHO.

What should I do if I think I have symptoms of the coronavirus?

If you develop a fever, cough or have difficulty breathing either in Italy or within 14 days of travelling here, you need to seek medical advice immediately but without endangering others.

Do not go straight to a hospital or doctor's surgery. In Italy, call the government's coronavirus hotline on 1500 for emergency advice in English, Italian or Chinese.

If you're already back home, call your doctor and inform them that you recently travelled to Italy.

Until you've been tested for the virus, avoid further travel or contact with others.

According to the WHO, around 80 percent of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment.

Around one out of every six people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are at higher risk of developing serious illness.

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


Member comments

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  1. We have plans to visit Europe in April and May of which two weeks are in Italy. We are reconsidering our plans, not because we are worried about contracting the coronavirus but because no-one knows, what parts of Europe, not just Italy, will close various sites, or if at anytime the area we are in will be quarantined, the latter is of more concern, as if something were to happen to our 24 & 27 year old children and we couldn’t get back home to Australia, that would be more devastating.

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