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HEALTH

UPDATE: How can separated international couples reunite in Italy?

People living outside of Europe can now travel to visit a partner in Italy under a recent government rule change. But what proof is needed of a “stable” relationship with an Italian resident?

UPDATE: How can separated international couples reunite in Italy?
A reunited couple at Rome's Fiumicino airport. Photo: AFP

The travel rules were relaxed for unmarried couple as part of the latest Italian emergency decree signed on September 7th.

The exception allows the reunification of international couples separated due to the travel rules: partners living abroad can now enter Italy to reach “the person with whom they have a stable emotional relationship, even if not cohabiting.”, the decree text states.

While partners from EU and Schengen countries had been allowed to travel without restrictions since May, those from most non-EU nations have not been allowed in as reuniting with a partner was not classed as an “essential” reason for travel.

READ ALSO: 'We're not tourists': The separated US-Italian couples demanding change to Covid travel rules

The Italian exemption was long-awaited positive news for those separated by the rules, including couples who had postponed weddings and engagements and even couples expecting a child.

But uncertainties remain. Three weeks after the government signed off on the exemption, those hoping to travel say Italy's rules are still too unclear for them to be able to risk making a costly long-haul trip.

Dozens of readers have recently contacted The Local to ask what proof they'll need to show border guards in order to be allowed into the country. 

“It has been three weeks since the decree was signed into law but at the moment it is too open to interpretation, especially for those travelling on an American passport, to commit to buying transatlantic airfares to Italy,” one reader told The Local. “So our separation continues.”

What are the rules?

Those travelling to Italy to reunite with a partner who is a resident in Italy must undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine period upon arrival, and will need to complete a self-certification form, which is to be handed to local health authorities.

While no special self-certification form for this purpose has been released yet, the Italian Embassy in Washington currently recommends travellers use the latest version and give their partner's address (where they will be required to quarantine.)

READ ALSO: 'What it was like to quarantine in Italy after arriving from the US'

Photo: AFP

But it is still not clear exactly what evidence travellers must provide to prove their relationship is “stable”.

As well as completing the self-certification form, “it is advisable to be ready to show any supporting documentation and to answer any questions from the staff in charge of controls,” according to the Foreign Ministry's Viaggiare Sicuri portal.

But what is “supporting documentation”?

It is not clear whether photos and chat history will be enough for italian border police, or if something more specific will be needed, such as evidence of previous regular visits, as in some other European countries which have introduced travel exemptions for international couples.

When contacted by The Local, the Foreign Ministry's press office on Monday confirmed that the official criteria had “not yet” been published but did not give any further details.

Guidelines will “soon” be drawn up between Italy's Foreign, Health and Interior ministries, Italan newspaper Il Fatto Quotidiano reports.

Meanwhile, the Italian Embassy in Washington told The Local it was providing US ctizens travelling to Italy for this reason with a note confirming they are eligible to travel, and said they would also need a “letter of invitation” from their partner to show to border police.

“The traveler will need the self-declaration form and an invitation letter,” said a spokesperson for the Italian Embassy in Washington.
 
“We have prepared a note, confirming that the September 7 Decree introduced the possibility of entry into Italy for people who have a proven and stable affective relationship with an Italian/EU/Schengen citizens or any other person with a long term residency in Italy.”

Please note: The Local is not able to advise on specific cases. If you are planning to travel to Italy to reunite with your partner, contact the Italian embassy in your country for the latest information.

 

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HEALTH

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy’s West Nile virus outbreak

As Italy records a surge in cases of West Nile fever, we look at what the disease is and where in the country it's spreading.

Q&A: What you need to know about Italy's West Nile virus outbreak

Mosquitos are unfortunately one downside of summer in Italy. But as well as being a nuisance, they may also pose a health risk in the country – one of the few in Europe to record cases of West Nile virus (WNV)

READ ALSO: Cases of West Nile fever surge in northern Italy

Last week Italy recorded 50 more cases of the mosquito-borne virus, bringing the total number of infections to 144 according to the latest report from Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS).

This marked a 53-percent increase in cases against the previous week, while ten people have died so far.

As the number of infections continues to rise, here are the answers to the most pressing questions about the disease and the outbreak in Italy.

What is it?

The West Nile Virus (WNV) is a single-stranded RNA virus that can cause West Nile fever in humans.

It’s a member of the Flavivirus family together with other endemic viruses such as the Zika and Dengue viruses.

The virus was first identified in 1937 in Uganda’s West Nile district but has since spread to many other parts of the world, to the point that it is now considered indigenous to Africa, the Middle East, Asia and Australia. 

Carried by birds, West Nile virus is transmitted to humans by mosquitoes.

The West Nile virus is primarily transmitted by mosquitoes of the Culex species, which infect humans and other mammals through their bite, according to Italy’s health ministry.

There is no evidence that human-to-human transmission is possible.

Where are cases being reported in Italy?

Infections have been largely concentrated in the north of the country, especially in the Veneto region, where six people have now died of the disease. Other deaths were recorded in Lombardy, Piedmont and Emilia-Romagna.

The city of Padua, which is located in Veneto’s mainland, around 35 kilometres away from the Adriatic coast, is currently regarded as the hotspot of the virus. 

It isn’t yet clear why Veneto has been the worst-hit region so far, but experts fear that its marshy lowlands might be the perfect breeding ground for disease-carrying mosquitoes. 

A mosquito of the Culex species viewed under a microscope.

Mosquitoes of the Culex species, a specimen of which is pictured above, are responsible for transmitting the West Nile Virus to humans and other mammals. Photo by Jon CHERRY Getty Images / AFP

How severe is the outbreak in Italy?

West Nile virus is not new to Italy. However, this summer has brought the highest number of cases recorded yet.

National infection levels remain relatively low but the country has by far the largest number of cases in Europe.

According to the most recent report from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC), dated August 3rd, 94 out of 120 recorded cases were in Italy.

Greece had 23 reported cases. Romania and Slovakia had two and one respectively. 

Italy is the only European country that has reported fatalities.

What are the symptoms?

According to the Italian Higher Health Institute (ISS), around 80 percent of infected people show no symptoms whatsoever.

In symptomatic cases, however, symptoms generally resemble those of a common flu and include fever, headaches, nausea and diarrhoea. 

The infection is usually only dangerous for people with weakened immune systems such as the elderly, and the most severe symptoms occur in fewer than one percent of infected people.

In healthy people, the virus is unlikely to cause more than a headache or sore throat, and symptoms generally last only a few days.

According to the data currently available, around one in 150 infected people can show symptoms as serious as partial vision loss, convulsions and paralysis. 

In very rare cases (around 0.1 percent, or one in 1000) the disease can cause brain infections (encephalitis or meningitis) which may eventually be fatal.

Brazilian biologists handle mosquito larvae.

There is currently no vaccine against West Nile disease, though several are being tested. Photo by Apu GOMES / AFP

Is there a cure?

There is no vaccine against West Nile fever. “Currently vaccines are being studied, but for the moment prevention consists mainly in reducing exposure to mosquito bites,” the ISS states.

There is also no specific treatment for the disease caused by the virus.

Patients showing the more serious symptoms are usually admitted to hospital and treated with IV fluids and assisted ventilation.

What should you do to protect yourself?

Seeing as there is currently no vaccine against the virus, the best way to protect oneself is by reducing exposure to mosquitoes as much as possible.

Italian health authorities have listed a number of official recommendations to help residents avoid mosquito bites. These include: 

  • Use repellent
  • Wear long-sleeved shirts and long trousers when being outdoors and especially during ​​mosquitoes’ peak activity times, i.e. sunrise and sunset
  • Use mosquito nets on your windows or sleep in rooms with air-conditioning and keep the windows closed
  • Make sure there are no pools of stagnant water around your house

See more information about West Nile virus in Italy on the health ministry’s website.

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