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Italy to run ‘Covid-free’ trains on Rome-Milan route

Italy's state-run railways will operate "Covid-free" high-speed trains on the Rome-Milan route starting next month, its chief executive said Monday.

Italy to run 'Covid-free' trains on Rome-Milan route
Photo: Tiziana Fabi/AFP

Gianfranco Battisti hailed the initiative as a way of reviving travel after more than a year of coronavirus curbs.

“We will introduce a Covid-free train in early April … initially between Rome and Milan,” Battisti said during an event at Rome’s main train station.

It will be a European first, according to his company, Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane (Italy’s state railway operator, which runs Trenitalia and the Frecce high-speed trains).

All staff and passengers will be tested for coronavirus before boarding “with the help of the Red Cross”, he said.

(L-R) CEO of the Ferrovie dello Stato Italiane, Gianfranco Battisti, Health Minister Roberto Speranza and Head of Civil Protection Fabrizio Curcio at a press conference at Rome’s Termini station on March 8th. Photo by Tiziana FABI/AFP.

After the Rome-Milan route, Italy’s busiest, “we will adopt this solution especially for tourist destinations” like Venice, Florence and Naples, he added.

Italian airline Alitalia last year launched Covid-tested flights on selected domestic and international flights.

US passengers are allowed to avoid 14 days in isolation if they travel on special flights from New York or Atlanta to Rome.

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Before the pandemic struck, tourism accounted for 14 per cent of Italy’s economy, Prime Minister Mario Draghi told parliament last month.

Lockdowns and other coronavirus restrictions have had a devastating impact on the industry, with hotels and restaurants forced to shut for months.

Overnight stays by foreign tourists were down by almost 70 per cent, year-on-year, in January-September 2020, according to official data released in December.

Under current restrictions, people living in Italy are also currently prohibited from travelling between regions or towns for non-essential reasons, making even domestic tourism impossible.

Rome’s Termini railway station on March 8th. Photo by Tiziana Fabi/AFP.

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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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