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‘What it was like to quarantine in Italy after arriving from the US’

If you're travelling to Italy from outside Europe, you'll have to spend your first 14 days in quarantine. AJ Fitzgerald, a dual US-Italian national in Rome who recently flew to New York and back, describes what the process was like for him.

'What it was like to quarantine in Italy after arriving from the US'
Quarantine in Italy: How do you get back from the airport? And can you take out the rubbish? Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The anxiety I felt as my dad drove me to JFK airport for my flight back to Rome had little to do with coronavirus.

Instead I worried about nearly everything else. How long until my next visit? Should I wait until there’s a vaccine? Will my grandmother remember me next time?

It was late August, and I was returning to Italy from visiting my family in New York. I was torn over whether to travel, but my grandmother’s memory had been deteriorating since 2018 and there were no guarantees regarding her health.

Meanwhile, epidemiological conditions had improved greatly in both New York and Italy, and looking ahead there was no telling what the fall and winter might bring.

Having made the opposite journey a month earlier, the trip no longer seemed like some looming unknown.

READ ALSO: How have Italy's travel rules changed under the latest emergency decree?

Like on my way out of Italy, as a dual US-Italian passport holder I was given little trouble at check-in, and my flight back to Rome was even emptier than the one I’d taken a month prior, no more than a quarter full.

Compared to my outbound journey, the passengers and attendants were better behaved mask-wise (in addition to a handful of face shields, one family of three was wearing matching ski goggles), and feeling a little less anxious I even managed to sleep a few hours this time around – though I once again sat through the entire nine-hour flight without once using the bathroom.

The only incident was an argument across the aisle between a fellow passenger and one of the flight attendants. He seemed respectful enough, but he simply wouldn’t accept the flight attendant’s news regarding our quarantine requirement. She kept shrugging her shoulders and explaining that she didn’t make the rules.

I remember his reply quite clearly: “It’s not that I don’t want to do it, it’s that I don’t think I can do it.” I wondered how many other passengers felt the same way he did.

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I expected plenty of scrutiny at the airport in Fiumicino, but instead I made it through arrivals in record time. The border control agent copied down some information from my Italian passport, but didn’t ask me a single question about my trip before sending me off to baggage claim.

We were given no instructions or information other than the declaration form we signed (we didn’t even get to keep a copy for ourselves).

The whole thing felt a little too laid-back given the dire circumstances in the US and rising case counts across Europe. There was a maskless carabiniere directing passengers at border control – he didn’t even have one hanging around his chin!

In line with Italy’s quarantine requirements for travelers arriving from the US, I booked a private car to the airport rather than my usual €6 bus. The only stop I made between the airport and my front door was to check the mailbox.

I’d been prudent enough to stock the apartment with toiletries and non-perishables before leaving Rome, so I already had some essentials on hand as I began quarantine day zero.

Once I shut the apartment door behind me, that was it. Fourteen days and counting.


You'll have to give the address where you plan to quarantine when you enter Italy. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

I’d expected some scrutiny from the local health authorities upon entering quarantine. After all, I had just re-entered Italy from the country with the highest number of Covid-19 cases and deaths in the world.

But instead there was near radio silence. My local health authority, or ASL, was nearly impossible to reach by phone, so I finally called the regional coronavirus hotline instead (800 118 800 in Lazio).

They basically confirmed what I already knew, with a few caveats. I had to stay in quarantine one day longer than I’d anticipated (despite landing at 7am local time, my arrival day did not count as one of my 14 days of isolamento), and under no circumstances was I allowed to take the garbage out.

I was told that AMA, the municipal garbage service, would contact me to arrange for a free door-to-door garbage pickup. This, of course, never happened, and I later realized that the system was stretched to capacity: by the time I finished quarantine, more than 4,000 people in Lazio were in home-isolation after testing positive for Covid-19 (not even including quarantined travelers like myself).

That’s a lot of phone calls to make, and a lot of doors to knock on.

READ ALSO: Covid-19: What happens if I test positive on arrival in Italy?

Missing garbage service aside, quarantine in Rome was a much more challenging experience than the 14 days I’d spent in mandatory isolation at my parents’ house in New York. In stark contrast to their sprawling suburban getaway, my apartment in Rome is a compact 40 m2, with just the teeniest of balconies overlooking our condominio’s concrete courtyard.

Jet lag only made matters worse. It’s already difficult to keep track of time in quarantine, even more so when your body is running six hours behind schedule.

Remote working was a godsend. A calendar full of Zoom meetings helped me feel a little less disconnected from the outside world. The rest of my time was filled with calls to my girlfriend, friends and family back home, a few Netflix series, far too much online shopping, cooking, cleaning, and a few too many glasses of wine. (An informal Instagram poll I conducted later confirmed what I already knew at heart: quarantine drinking does not count as the bad kind of drinking alone.)

Naturally, the first question my grandmother asked me via video call, just a day or two after landing in Italy, was the same one she’s asked me every week for the last two years: “So, will I get to see you one of these days or what?”

The ASL first contacted me directly on day ten of my quarantine, mostly to confirm my information and check whether I’d developed any symptoms.

They also asked if I would be interested in getting a tampone (not required for those undergoing the full quarantine), but quickly rescinded the offer upon learning that I had no car with which to drive myself to the testing center.

READ ALSO: How to get a coronavirus test in Italy

They called again on my last day, this time to confirm that I could finally leave the apartment the following morning.

I’d originally planned a sort of “passeggiata della liberazione” as soon as the clock struck midnight on my final day of quarantine, but a text from my neighbor made me hold off. She had knocked for a small favor the day before, and I’d said that I probably shouldn’t open the door for her while in quarantine.

Now she was nervously texting me to ask whether I had tested positive for Covid, whether I might be contagious. The last thing I wanted was for her to hear me “sneaking out” of the apartment in the middle of the night, and all the questions that might bring.

So instead I waited until the next morning to take the garbage out and go for a walk around the neighborhood. I’d be shocked the next day at how sore my legs were, having only walked as far as the distance between my couch and bed for two weeks.

Later that afternoon I took the metro to Roma Termini to greet my girlfriend, who was returning from Puglia now that I’d finally completed quarantine.

As I stood in the crowd waiting for her train to arrive, I wondered how many people walking past had been cooped up like I had, or if anyone was there in defiance of their quarantine order – someone like that man from my flight. I wondered how many had lost a loved one, or had been sick themselves since the pandemic started, or would become sick in the months to come.

Originally from the suburbs of New York City, AJ Fitzgerald is an Italian-American writer and educator currently based in Rome. Follow him on Instagram or on Twitter.

Have you been quarantined in Italy? If you'd like to share your experience with The Local, please email the editor here.

Member comments

  1. We had a very different experience at the end of May flying in from Brazil via Frankfurt. Our local (Umbria) ASL rang us every day of the 14-day isolation period, except Sundays (of course). From Brazil to Frankfurt to Fiumicino, the first time our temperature was scanned was in FCO. We then had to have a 5 minute interview with one of the many health officials at the airport to check the self declaration forms. I don’t know if this has now been disbanded but overall we were very impressed with the checks done here, especially when compared to the utter chaos in the UK.

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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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