Coronavirus Travel Update | Ground Reality of Italy’s Lockdown

Accounts from locals in the quarantined zones and what does it mean for travellers in the wake of the COVID-19 outbreak.  
Coronavirus Travel Update | Ground Reality of Italy’s Lockdown
All of Italy has been placed under a lockdown to contain the coronavirus outbreak in the country. Photo By: NurPhoto/ Contributor/Getty Images

In an attempt to curb the novel coronavirus pandemic, Italy became the first democracy to impose a nation-wide lockdown on March 8. The restrictions, initially imposed in the northern region, was soon extended to the country of 60 million. On March 9, all of Italy became a protected zone. As of March 17, Europe’s worst-hit nation grappling with the outbreak has reported 27,980 confirmed cases of which 2,749 have recovered and 2,158 have succumbed.

“Rome was quiet when I left and it seems like those who were slow at following measures to limit movement are now taking the rules seriously,” Maria Pasquale, an Australia-born travel and food writer based in Rome, recalls her final moments in the city just hours before Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced the clampdown. Torn between staying back in a place she called home for the last nine years and leaving for her country of origin, the 40 year old decided to board a flight to Melbourne. “I have been recovering from a number of surgeries over the last 18 months and unfortunately wouldn’t have been able to get the care I need in Italy at the moment,” she wrote in an email after landing in Melbourne. Maria, who holds a dual Australian-Italian citizenship, was allowed to enter the country only on the condition of self-quarantining herself for the next 14 days.

A day later, the Italian government tightened its already restrictive measures by ordering bars, restaurants and hairdressing salons to close until March 25, with supermarkets, food and chemist stores being the only exceptions. This came after the highest daily increase in deaths of any country outside China since the outbreak began. The death toll on March 11 spiked by 196 in 24 hours to 827. The nationwide tally rose to 12,462 from a previous 10,149 cases.

Military police and health officials have been on parole to conduct regular checks at train stations and roads to ensure that people aren’t moving around without permission.

What does this mean on the medical front? For Rome-based Andrea Guerriero, a chief medical officer at medinaction.com—a digital healthcare service in the country—the situation is especially demanding. “The doctors and medical staff are overwhelmed from the work overload. In a national effort, we’ve been advising patients via telemedicine, diagnosing symptoms over phone and video calls. We urge people to stay home unless they’re absolutely required to come in for treatment.” However, the disparity in the ratio of hospital bed availabilities and the number of new cases continues to widen. The existing wards are being turned into intensive care units in a bid to bridge the gap. “It’s not about who gets sick,” says the MD. “It’s about who gets very sick and unfortunately it comes down to older people and the ones with a compromised immune system.”

Given social media’s rippling effect, the government has launched an online campaign, #IoStoaCasa urging people to “stay at home.” Digital influencers have turned to their followers and raised millions of euros to support the country’s healthcare facilities.

 

Coronavirus Travel Update | Ground Reality of Italy’s Lockdown 1

Military police and health officials are on parole to conduct regular checks at train stations and roads to ensure that people aren’t moving around without permission. Photo By: Stefano Montesi-Corbis/Contributor/Getty Images.

 

Hours into the lockdown

On March 8, the news leaked hours before Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte signed a decree that put the entire Lombardy region, as well as 14 other provinces from four other regions, including the cities of Venice, Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio Emilia and Rimini, under travel restrictions.

Acting on the confusion and fear of being trapped in a quarantined zone, many took the first available transport to leave for southern Italy or elsewhere in Europe before the measures came into force. In the aftermath, the number of confirmed cases in the country rose by 25% to 7,375 on Sunday, while the number of deaths jumped by 57% to 366 in a span of 24 hours.

With reports of chaos doing rounds on the internet, it has raised questions about the ground reality of the quarantined zones, what does this mean for travellers in the coming weeks? We speak to locals residing in the regions to make sense of the situation.

“People are allowed to move within their local area for work-related reasons or health problems. Anyone with fever and flu-related symptoms is requested to stay home,” says Laura La Monaca, a photographer based in Milan. “A fine or even jail term might be imposed on individuals who show no concrete reason to stay out.” Though it is a disruption of daily life, Laura believes it is for the greater good.

Museums, theatres and pubs have been shut, and events with large public gatherings such as weddings and funerals have been put on hold until April 3. Schools and universities have moved online. Restaurants are allowed to operate only between 6 a.m. and 6 p.m. on the condition that customers maintain a distance of at least three feet. Public transport is functional.

However, the challenges lie on the medical front. “Lombardia has one of the best healthcare systems in Italy,” Laura adds. “The problem right now is that some of the people infected with the virus need ICU and Sub ICU assistance. We do not have enough beds to take care of them without interrupting care for people with needs different from coronavirus.”

When the measures came into effect,people caught away from home were allowed to return as train stations were operating. However, Alitalia, anational carrier said it would suspend international and domestic services to and from Milan’s main Malpensa airport from March 9 and operate only domestic flights from the smaller Linate airport.

 

International Travel Routes

Italy has recorded the largest outbreak in Europe, as a result of which its citizens and travellers have been subjected to regulations across international borders. On February 29, the US Department of State had updated its travel advisory to level 3 warning, urging people to reconsider their travel to Italy due to the outbreak. On March 6, a senior DGCA official in India said travellers of any nationality having visited Italy or South Korea will now have to submit a certificate proving that they tested negative from coronavirus, before entering the country. This came into effect after 16 Italian tourists visiting India tested positive. On March 8, India suspended all visas granted to nationals of Italy, Iran, South Korea and Japan.

The Ministry of Health & Family Welfare in a statement has said all incoming travellers, including Indians, arriving from or having visited Italy among other COVID-19 affected countries after February 15, 2020 will be quarantined for a minimum period of 14 days. The Centres for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) have issued a Level 3 warning, which is on par with South Korea and China, recommending all but non-essential to Italy. On March 11, US President Donal trump suspended the entry of all foreign nationals from Europe’s Schengen zones to the US for the next 30 days. While El Salvador has banned visitors from Italy, Singapore has deferred all nonessential travels to Italy.

This is a developing story—last updated as of March 17 and we will update it as and when the situation in Italy changes. For all our travel updates on coronavirus, go here.

  • Pooja Naik is Junior Writer at National Geographic Traveller India. She likes to take long leisurely walks with both hands in her pocket; channeling her inner Gil Pender at Marine Drive since Paris is a continent away.

Psst. Want a weekly dose of travel inspiration in your inbox?