Coronavirus cases surged overnight in Italy — is it safe to travel there?
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The novel coronavirus from China, 2019-nCoV, is quickly spreading across the world with little signs of slowing down. While health and government officials have acted swiftly, the deadly virus has seen a spike in confirmed cases and deaths.
Currently, the global death toll stands at more than 2,620, while over 79,000 people have been infected, according to CNN. The vast majority of confirmed cases are still in China, specifically in the Hubei province where the virus originated. But outbreaks in South Korea and Italy are quickly escalating.
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Italy is currently in the midst of the biggest coronavirus outbreak in Europe, and six people there have died from the disease so far, The New York Times reported. Additionally, the number of cases rose to 219 on Monday from 152 the day prior. Most of the cases are in the Lombardy region, where Milan is located, as well as the Veneto region, home to Venice. Milan and Venice are not under quarantine, though several small towns south of Milan are, with nobody allowed to either leave or enter.
By way of comparison, South Korea reported a total of 833 cases and seven deaths to date, according to the Times.
These numbers don’t include the more than 630 passengers who tested positive on the Diamond Princess, the formerly quarantined cruise ship off the coast of Japan.
With the near overnight surge in confirmed cases, it begs the question: Is it still safe to travel to Italy right now? Here’s what we know.
Italian officials have yet to find patient zero, but in the meantime, are taking extra precautions in Lombardy and Veneto — including closing universities and museums, and cancelling mass, weddings and funerals, according to national Italian paper La Repubblica. Perhaps most striking, Venice’s famous Carnival celebration has been cancelled.
In addition, La Repubblica reported that “all public events of any kind or any kind of assembly” have been banned, and bars must close between 6 p.m. and 6 a.m. Restaurants are so far unaffected.
At this time, 50,000 people in 11 northern towns are on lockdown, according to the Times. There have not been any confirmed cases near other popular cities, such as Florence or Rome.
“We are asking basically that everyone who has come from areas stricken by the epidemic to remain under a mandatory house stay”, said Italy’s health minister, Roberto Speranza, at a press conference on Saturday.
Andrea Casalis, a 27-year-old from Vo’ Euganeo (a town near the centre of the Veneto outbreak), told the AP, “This wasn’t a very exciting place to begin with. Since we can’t go to the bar, there’s not much left to do”.
In Milan, the city’s historic Duomo cathedral has closed. Fashion designer Giorgio Armani decided not to allow a live audience at his fashion show, and livestreamed it instead.
There are also reports that Italian football might be played behind closed doors, without fans, to prevent the spread of coronavirus. Maurizio Casasco, the president of the Italian federation for sports physicians, told the AP, “Playing all sports behind closed doors for the next week could be possible, because then fans can more easily stay at home”.
Basilicata, a region in the south of Italy, is quarantining people coming from the affected northern regions for two weeks, according to the Times. Mauritius also gave passengers on an incoming Alitalia flight from Rome an ultimatum: enter a quarantine, or immediately return to Italy. The passengers flew back to Italy, although none of them exhibited any symptoms.
Countries such as Croatia, Hungary and Ireland have all advised against travel to the affected areas, including Milan and Venice. Additionally, Austria temporarily halted rail traffic across its shared border with Italy, the AP reported.
High-speed train operators including Italo and Trenitalia are offering full refunds for passengers. They both operate trains that tourists use to travel between major cities, such as Milan to Naples via Bologna, Florence and Rome.
While some of these figures may be startling, Angelo Borrelli, head of Italy’s civil protection agency, said the hotspots where the virus has been found are not expanding, as those areas are under quarantine.
He also added that the outbreak remains in a contained area, and it is safe to travel to Italy.
As of time of publication, the U.S. State Department lists Italy as a Level 2 destination, last updated in January. No updates have been made due to the spread of coronavirus.
Alitalia, Italy’s flag carrier, has not issued any travel waivers as of yet.
If you do decide to cancel your upcoming trip, be sure to read up on what is — and more importantly, isn’t — covered by your credit card or independent travel service.
And no matter where your travels may take you this year, be prepared for any type of travel disruption with these tips in mind.
Featured photo by ANDREAS SOLARO/AFP/Getty Images.
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