The Italian tourism travel industry has been hard hit by the Italy coronavirus outbreak. In fact, Italy has been harder hit by COVID-19 than any other European country. As one of the world’s most popular destinations, is Italy safe for travelers? Should you cancel your trip?
Italy’s Rising Death Toll
While Italy doesn’t have the most confirmed cases of Coronavirus outside mainland China, it does have the dubious distinction of having registered the most Wuhan virus deaths.
As of 12 March 2020, Italy had 4,636 confirmed cases and 197 deaths. To put these respiratory illness figures in context …
- Mainland China had 80,651 cases and 3,070 deaths.
- South Korea had 6,767 cases and 42 deaths.
- Iran had 4,747 cases and 124 deaths.
Most noteworthy is the relatively high ratio of deaths to confirmed cases.
The coronavirus was first identified in the Chinese city of Wuhan in December of 2019. By January 2020, it was starting to spread to other cities in China.
Then it started to turn up in other countries. And Italy was among the first.
Two Chinese tourists tested positive to the COVID-19 virus in Rome, Italy, on 31 January.
By 21 February, there were 22 confirmed coronavirus cases in the Italian city of Lombardy.
Consequently, 60 more people tested positive to the Wuhan virus on the following day. On the same day, two people also died from COVID-19. They were the first Wuhan coronavirus deaths in Italy.
As the virus spread, other countries started to take note.
On 29 February, the U.S. Department of State issued an Italy Travel Advisory. And it urged U.S. citizens to “reconsider” travel to Italy.
More importantly, it advised Americans against travel to two specific parts of the country.
Lombardy and Veneto were targeted because of their “level of community transmission of the virus and imposition of local quarantine procedures”.
Is Italy Safe for Travelers?
Which raises an important question for travelers. Is it safe to travel to Italy at this time?
Already several major events have been canceled or postponed. Included is TBEX Europe 2020.
Originally, the travel bloggers’ conference was going to take place from 10 to 13 March in Catania, a town on the Southern Italian island of Sicily.
Now, the event has been postponed. While it will be rescheduled for later this year, a specific date has yet to be determined.
In fact, Sicily is far from the two coronavirus clusters. And most other parts of the country have not been affected so far. So why did organizers postpone TBEX Italy?
“This decision was made in an abundance of caution to protect the safety of our attendees, sponsors, staff, hosts in Catania and their respective families, loved ones and communities,” organizers say.
The decision followed a warning against “nonessential travel to Italy” by the Centers for Disease Control Prevention (CDC) in the United States.
In addition to the United States, several other countries have issued travel advisories.
“Taking these travel warnings in mind as well as other countries advising against traveling to some parts of Italy, we are confident re-scheduling TBEX Europe 2020 is the most responsible thing to do for everyone involved,” TBEX organizers say.
Just a Cautionary Measure?
According to the Italian National Tourist Board, Italy continues to be a safe place to live in and travel to. In other words, the measures being taken are more of a “preemptive strike”
“The adoption of extraordinary preventive actions, such as the temporary closure of several sites or the suspension of several events, represents cautionary measures which have nothing to do with the spreading of the virus throughout the Italian territory,” the board says.
“In accordance with the data provided by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to date only 0.05% of Italy is affected by extraordinary measures of temporary isolation of some Italian cities (equal to 0.1% of the total) aimed at avoiding the spread of the virus.”
Italy has 7,904 cities and towns. And only 12 of them in the two “coronavirus clustees” have been affected by the measures:
- Lombardy: Bertonico, Casalpusterlengo, Castelgerundo, Castiglione D’Adda, Codogno, Fombio, Maleo, San Fiorano, Somaglia, Terranova dei Passerini
- Veneto: Vo’ Euganeo.
The tourism board maintains that the rest of the country remains safe. And that includes “the Italian regions where the cities in temporary isolation are located”.
“All services and activities for citizens and tourists are normally provided and the quality of life, for which Italy is famous world-wide, remains high.”
Even if it is safe to travel to Italy, practical matters need to be taken into consideration. And these could apply to other travel destinations, as well.
For example, flights might be canceled. Or you might miss your connection. Regarding hotels, they may refuse to refund your money if you need to cancel your booking.
More importantly, you might be subject to quarantine when you return to your own country.
Meanwhile, passengers transiting third countries might also encounter difficulties. For example, will you face quarantine? Might you be refused entry?
Remember the ocean liner that was turned away by five countries before it was finally allowed to dock in Cambodia.
Or the passengers that were quarantined on a ship in Japan for an extended period of time.
If you think you will be covered by travel insurance, think again! Sometimes, there are caveats.
So check into exemptions clauses. For example, are you covered if you decide not to take your flight? Most importantly, will your medical expenses be covered if you fall ill during an epidemic?