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HEALTH

‘Don’t come’: Italian regions seek to stop second-home owners visiting

With most of Italy in lockdown, local authorities are resorting to tourist bans, testing requirements and quarantine to discourage second-home owners from visiting.

'Don't come': Italian regions seek to stop second-home owners visiting
The village of Vinci in Tuscany. Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

The island of Sardinia, Italy’s only low-risk ‘white zone’ under minimal restrictions, has barred visitors from travelling to second homes unless they have an urgent, essential reason to do so.

With the Easter break approaching, it’s one of several parts of Italy taking action to make it harder for people to retreat from cities under lockdown to second homes in areas where infection rates are lower.

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A regional ordinance signed on Wednesday night decrees that non-residents can only travel to Sardinia – which has an estimated 300,000 holiday houses – for work or emergencies, not to reach a second home. The ban applies from March 18th until at least April 6th, the end of the Easter weekend.

Similar bans are already in place in Valle D’Aosta and the autonomous province of Bolzano (Alto Adige/South Tyrol).

While most non-essential travel between regions is forbidden under Italy’s nationwide emergency rules, an exception allows people who have a second home to cross regional borders to get there, so long as they owned or rented it before January 14th 2021 and no one else already lives there.

But with Italy in the middle of a new wave of coronavirus infections and most of the country under tight restrictions, many coastal and rural areas fear an influx of second-home owners looking to escape cities where rules are strictest and infections highest.

“Don’t come to your second homes: help us to get the pandemic under control, for everyone’s sake,” wrote the mayors of 16 towns on the coast of Tuscany in a recent joint appeal to the public. 

“Tourism and hospitality are fundamental for us, but right now they can’t be guaranteed,” the mayors said, expressing fear that health services already under strain wouldn’t be able to cope with extra pressure. “We’ll wait for second-home owners with open arms, but for now we’re asking for a gesture of love and responsibility.” 

Passengers are tested on arrival at Cagliari airport in Sardinia. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The governor of Tuscany, Eugenio Giani, has pledged to introduce new measures limiting visits to second homes in the region at weekends and over Easter. Earlier this year he tried to bar any property owners who weren’t registered with a doctor in Tuscany, but a regional court overturned the ban. 

There may be other legal challenges to regions’ restrictions on visiting second homes, since the decision to curtail free movement is supposed to rest with Italy’s national government, not regional powers. 

Campania, for instance, has forbidden its own residents from visiting their second homes within the region, but stopped short of trying to ban holiday-home owners entering from other parts of Italy.

Meanwhile Sicily requires anyone entering from another region to test negative for coronavirus or face quarantine.

Sardinia, too, imposed a negative test requirement earlier this month, though there were reports of ferry travellers flouting the rule en masse amid chaos at the island’s main ports.

One of Sardinia’s outlying islands, Sant’Antioco, went further and decreed this week that anyone arriving from elsewhere in Italy or overseas has to spend ten days in isolation, even after testing negative. The only exception is for people who have had both shots of a Covid-19 vaccine.

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Enforcing the new restrictions remains the biggest challenge. Sardinia has ordered ferry companies and airlines to verify passengers’ justification for travelling before they board, as well as calling in forest rangers to help check paperwork.

Any regional restrictions come on top of Italy’s international travel rules, which bar tourists from most countries outside the European Union and require EU visitors to present a recent negative Covid test.

Sardinia saw several outbreaks of coronavirus last summer as Italy relaxed its first lockdown and Italian and European tourists flocked to the island’s beaches. Even now, with overall infection rates the lowest in Italy, some towns are under local lockdown in a bid to contain new clusters.

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MONKEYPOX

Semen ‘a vehicle’ for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

Researchers in Italy who were first to identify the presence of monkeypox in semen are broadening their testing, saying early results suggest sperm can transmit infection.

Semen 'a vehicle' for monkeypox infection, say Italian health experts

A team at Rome’s Spallanzani Hospital, which specialises in infectious diseases, revealed in a study published on June 2nd that the virus DNA was detected in semen of three out of four men diagnosed with monkeypox.

They have since expanded their work, according to director Francesco Vaia, who said researchers have found the presence of monkeypox in the sperm of 14 infected men out of 16 studied.

READ ALSO: EXPLAINED: How is Italy dealing with rising monkeypox cases?

“This finding tells us that the presence of the virus in sperm is not a rare or random occurrence,” Vaia told AFP in an interview.

He added: “The infection can be transmitted during sexual intercourse by direct contact with skin lesions, but our study shows that semen can also be a vehicle for infection.”

Researchers at Spallanzani identified Italy’s first cases of monkeypox, found in two men who had recently returned from the Canary Islands.

The latest results reported by Vaia have not yet been published or subject to peer review.

Since early May, a surge of monkeypox cases has been detected outside of the West and Central African countries where the disease has long been endemic. Most of the new cases have been in Western Europe.

More than 3,400 confirmed cases and one death have now been reported to the World Health Organisation from more than 50 countries this year.

The vast majority of cases so far have been observed in men who have sex with men, of young age, chiefly in urban areas, in “clustered social and sexual networks”, according to the WHO.

It is investigating cases of semen testing positive for monkeypox, but has maintained the virus is primarily spread through close contact.

Meg Doherty, director of the WHO’s global HIV, hepatitis and sexually-transmitted infection programmes, said last week: “We are not calling this a sexually-transmitted infection.”

Could antivirals curb the spread of monkeypox?

Spallanzani researchers are now trying to ascertain how long the virus is present in sperm after the onset of symptoms.

In one patient, virus DNA was detected three weeks after symptoms first appeared, even after lesions had disappeared – a phenomenon Vaia said had been seen in the past in viral infections such as Zika.

That could indicate that the risk of transmission of monkeypox could be lowered by the use of condoms in the weeks after recovery, he said.

The Spallanzani team is also looking at vaginal secretions to study the presence of the virus.

A significant finding from the first study was that when the virus was cultured in the lab, it was “present in semen as a live, infectious virus efficient in reproducing itself”, Vaia told AFP.

Vaia cautioned that there remained many unanswered questions on monkeypox, including whether antiviral therapies could shorten the time in which people with the virus could infect others.

Another is whether the smallpox vaccine could protect people from the monkeypox virus.

“To study this we will analyse people who were vaccinated 40 years ago before human smallpox was declared to have disappeared,” Vaia said.

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