How the Italian lockdown has benefitted Rome’s urban bees

While most Romans found Italy's coronavirus quarantine a real buzz kill, the city's bees had a field day.

How the Italian lockdown has benefitted Rome's urban bees
A beekeeper on the roof of the carabinieri headquarters in Rome. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Even as Rome endured a recently ended two-month lockdown, some lucky bees residing in hives atop the special forestry unit of Italy's carabinieri were thriving.

For three years, members of the carabinieri — the military police which has a special force charged with protecting forests and the environment — have been tracking approximately 150,000 bees living in three hives on the roof.

READ ALSO: Here's how much pollution has fallen in Italy since quarantine began

The coronavirus epidemic offered a unique opportunity for research, as traffic, pollution and noise in the sprawling city virtually stopped overnight in early March after a nationwide quarantine was ordered.

How would the bees react?

“They've been happy,” said Raffaele Cirone, president of the Italian Apiculture Federation. “We see they've been more numerous and healthy, and those are indications of the nutrition they've been getting.”

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP


The quality of the bees' honey has visibly improved, Cirone said.

Tests show that the bees have been sampling 150 different flowers in the area, compared with the 100 varieties seen before the lockdown. Lack of air pollution means the bees have been able to smell the flowers that attract them from 2 kilometres away, double the normal distance, he said.

There are an estimated 1,000 to 2,000 hives in Rome, and the city's bees were already happier than their comrades in the countryside, said Cirone, where bees must contend with toxic chemical products used in agricultural production.

READ ALSO: Climate crisis: Italian beekeepers suffer 'worst honey harvest ever'

On Thursday, two carabinieri beekeepers wearing gloves, hats, veils and bright yellow protective jackets over their uniforms — with their distinctive red-striped trousers — showed off their bees with hive smokers in hand. One of them, Corporal Gianluca Filoni, said the bees had grown on him after their time together.

“I'm not crazy about insects but now I like them,” Filoni said, as he showed off a honey and wax-encrusted frame covered by hundreds of bees.

The queen, who had been out of sight, suddenly came into view. “There she is!” exclaimed Filoni, before the queen bee buried her way into a new hiding place. “She doesn't like to be exposed.”

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Cirone of the beekeeping federation said his initiation into apiculture began at age six, when his uncle brought him along to watch him take care of his hives, instructing him to stay very still and quiet. It's a memory that still brings shivers, Cirone said.

“It was like going into the lion's den and coming out unharmed,” said this bee lover, who even sports bees on his tie.

The bee-studying project, managed by Lieutenant Colonel Nicola Giordano of the forestry and environment unit command, includes about 30 other groups in Italy's capital sharing information about their bees. The data from the two-month quarantine period is expected to be ready by summer.

READ ALSO: 'Like being on a coral reef': Marine life returns to heart of Venice in Italy's lockdown

Giordano said it was not incongruent for the carabinieri to be paying attention to the tiny, honey-making insects.

“It might seem strange but seeing as our institutional mission is the environment, to not take into account the bees, the pollinators, would mean we're not paying attention to biological complexity which is fundamental to our planet,” Giordano said.

Making honey is not really the point, he said, but still the hives produce about 30 kilogrammes of honey.

“Aroma of Roma,” joked Cirone. 

By AFP's Alexandria Sage

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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].”