Coronavirus Italy: A Message from Northern Italy

Alright. Let’s talk about coronavirus Italy 2020 (posted 6 March 2020). 

Also see update as of 10 March 2020, reflecting the country-wide lockdown.   

Here’s the deal, we are scared, too.

But, the reality is, many of us here in Italy are less fearful of the virus itself because we understand that the containment measures happening here – while seemingly extreme – are working. What frightens many of us…is the uncertainty of the long term effects on the economy.

Everyone everywhere has a right to their fears and concerns. But, I want to share what I see happening here, from Northern Italy in an effort to help calm the fear, even if just a little.

I get the fear coming from those outside Italy.

I’ve googled “coronavirus Italy”. The headlines scream back utter chaos.

I read social media comments on coronavirus posts – posts by friends, news outlets. I’ve received endless messages asking if I’m on lockdown, quarantined, and if we’re okay.

So, let me start by telling you that really, truly, the vast majority of us remain in good health. And, we are not on lockdown. 

Life goes on *almost* normally here. When I walk around outside, I don’t see anyone wearing surgical masks, the shelves at the grocery stores are not empty, and no one recoils in terror at a sneeze or a cough.

But, those of us in these flagged “high risk” areas of the world also need to be sensitive to the concerns and fears of those beyond our borders. And, that brings me to the reason for this writing. We need to keep perspective and be realistic about the situation.

It is not my intent to downplay the worry as concerns are completely valid. Because while this virus is mild and will have limited effects on healthy people, there is a small portion of the population for whom it is deadly. So, we need to protect them.

Cornavirus Italy

So, I’m going to topline what I think is important for those with Italy travel plans now and in the coming months to know to help better explain the situation here:

  • First, let’s talk about the (incredibly effective and actually quite impressive) containment measures that the Italian government is taking to deal with this coronavirus Italy situation. The reality is, the countries doing more testing are identifying more cases – it’s a numbers game.
  • Next, let’s look at the reason the vast majority of people are actually canceling trips to Italy in the short term. Many of the cancellations are coming from a fear of quarantine AND a result of closed borders as well as airlines suspending flights, much attributed to stringent containment measures. For a lot of people, it is not about a fear of getting sick and my worry is that the reasonable cancellations are creating unnecessary hysteria about future trips.
  • Finally, let’s talk about what you should know about visiting Italy now and in the coming months – safety measures and resources.

Let me start by telling you what is going on here.

Coronavirus Italy – What is different here?  

I live in Alba, Italy. A city of about 35,000 people that sits almost directly between the famed Barolo and Barbaresco wine regions of southwestern Piedmont; yes, in Northern Italy. Alba is about 50 km / 31 miles from Turin and 124 km / 77 miles from Milan.

In Piedmont, like Lombardy and the Veneto, schools have been closed since the start of March. And, now the entire country has closed schools until mid-March. So, that’s is a huge adjustment – juggling childcare, work, and all other aspects of every day life.

Save for some recent rainy days, everyone is still outside. Kids are playing in the park, the piazza, Il Ragazzino is attending a birthday party this weekend, a friend took her kids to the Egyptian museum in Turin earlier this week.

For those who have childcare and jobs outside of affected industries, like tourism, it truly is business as usual.

For those of us in tourism and affected auxiliary business, there is an air of fear about what comes next. We have no idea how long this will last. How out of hand the panic will get. It’s scary because in Italy the stakes are high for tourism.

In 2019, the contribution of travel and tourism to the Italian gross domestic product amounted to 237.8 billion euros. The industry, which is one of the most important ones for the country’s economy, constituted about 13.3 percent of the Italian GDP in the year considered and is predicted to reach 14.3 percent in 2029. Source: Statista.

My purpose in starting with all this is to set the stage, by explaining what is actually going on here. Then, delve into the reality of the numbers when it comes to coronavirus Italy and all over the world.


What are the symptoms of COVID-19?

The most common symptoms of COVID-19 are fever, tiredness, and dry cough. Some patients may have aches and pains, nasal congestion, runny nose, sore throat or diarrhea. These symptoms are usually mild and begin gradually. Some people become infected but don’t develop any symptoms and don’t feel unwell. Most people (about 80%) recover from the disease without needing special treatment. Around 1 out of every 6 people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing. Older people, and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes, are more likely to develop serious illness. People with fever, cough and difficulty breathing should seek medical attention. (Source: World Health Organization).


But, doesn’t Italy have one of the highest numbers of confirmed cases in the world?

Yes, people are getting sick. Yes, people have died. But, when really quantified, the numbers are not as black and white as the media makes them.

Globally, coronavirus cases are confirmed at about 100,000 and are connected to 3,100+ deaths.

Outside of the epicenter of China, Italy is in the top five of confirmed cases across the globe. The breakdown as follows: China (80,559), South Korea (6,593) Iran (4,747), and Italy (3,858). But, what that information fails to tell you is that aside from China, countries like South Korea and Italy are doing more testing than anywhere else.

Meanwhile, South Korean officials have been testing more than 10,000 people a day, driving up the country’s reported-case count. Same goes for Italy: high test rate, high number of cases. (Now some Italian politicians want to restrict testing.) In China, the official data say the country has more than 80,000 cases, but the real number might be far, far higher because of all the people who had mild(er) cases and were turned away from medical care, or never sought it in the first place. That may be cause for reassurance (though not everyone agrees), because the total number of cases is the denominator in the simple equation that yields a fatality rate: deaths divided by cases. More cases with the same number of deaths means that the disease is likely less deadly than the data show.

The Atlantic, 3 March 2020: The Official Coronavirus Numbers Are Wrong, and Everyone Knows It

You see, every country is handling screening and testing differently. As such, it’s hard to truly get a handle on the global numbers.

Consider the United States of America, the country with the third-largest population in the world. 

First of all, according to the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC), a mere 472 people have been tested (last updated 29 February 2020). Add to that the rumblings that the CDC’s testing kits have been faulty. Then factor in the lack of screening until recently and reports that those exhibiting symptoms have been turned away from testing.

In fact, according to the Association of Public Health Laboratories, only about 54 of 100 local and state public health labs in the USA are currently able to perform testing – and those labs have the capacity to test 100 patients a day.

“One implication of the delay in testing is not knowing who is contagious if they are asymptomatic or can’t distinguish their symptoms from a regular cough or cold,” said Bhaskar Chakravorti, dean of Global Business at The Fletcher School of Law and Diplomacy at Tufts University.

“Expanding testing has costs and disruptive effects, but can potentially limit the spread of the contagion earlier and faster,” Chakravorti told Al Jazeera. 

Al Jazeera, 3 March 2020: US Government under scrutiny in delays over coronavirus testing 

I don’t note this to create more fear but to make the case that the panic and hysteria surrounding Italy is somewhat unfounded when you consider the abysmal response from a global powerhouse like the United States of America.

Yes, 11 towns are on lockdown, affecting about 50,000 people.

The closed towns are being carefully monitored for entry and exits to keep the situation contained because they are the hardest-hit areas. I can’t stress enough that these are containment measures.


The region of Lombardy has 10 towns on lockdown: Codogno; Castiglione d’Adda; Casalpusterlengo; Fombio; Maleo; Somaglia; Bertonico; Terranova dei Passerini; Castelgerundo; and San Fiorano; and one in the Veneto: Vo’Euganeo.


The closure of schools, suspension of public events, implementation of roadblocks, and more stringent screening shows just hard the Italian government is working to manage the situation.

But people really are canceling trips, right? Isn’t that cause for alarm? 

Yes, it’s true that all over Italy travel cancellations are pouring in. And, to me, it’s understandable – for the short term.

Airlines have suspended flights into Italy. There are concerns about quarantine for foreigners – in most instances that is upon returning to their home country.

Here in Italy, we probably need to be more sensitive to this, but we’re all scared, so please be patient with us, too.

For us, cancellation emails are scary, particularly when our inboxes are eerily silent at a time when typically spring, summer, fall bookings fill our time.

But, what are people supposed to do if their flights get canceled? And, under threat of quarantine, it’s not exactly appealing to carry on with plans for a 10-day holiday that will leave you taking sick time or worse yet, separated from family, while a quarantine period expires.

It sucks for everyone involved. But, trips can be rebooked. And, the situation will subside. We have to keep breathing through it and work together.

Educate yourself and don’t get sucked into the hysteria. If you choose to reschedule or cancel your Italy travel plans because of the coronavirus, make an informed decision on the subject and work with your travel providers to develop an amicable refund / rebooking policy that is fair all around.

I’m going to end with a list of tips and resources for coronavirus Italy travel. I am by no means an expert on this situation, but given my vocation and PR background, I’m keeping as educated on it as I can. So, I will continue to make updates here and on Facebook as I deem necessary.

The current situation won’t last forever, so I urge you to keep Italy travel top of mind. Don’t cancel those summer and fall trips. In fact, since we are probably bound to see a slump, you will probably get better deals and experience fewer crowds.

And, as I’ve outlined, you will be safe since we know Italy is on top of the coronavirus containment. Now, if we could just get the government a little media training and some education on crisis communication…

Tips for Italy travel changes due to the coronavirus:

  • A lot of airlines are offering special policies for flight changes. Familiarize yourself with those if you have flights booked. Find a breakdown of airlines waiving rees for changes and cancellations due to coronavirus here.
  • If your flight has been canceled and you still want to make the trip, see if you can change your flight nearby airports. For Piedmont travelers experiencing flight cancellations into Milan, check out our list of other nearby airports near to the area here.
  • For flight cancellations that cannot be rebooked into a nearby location, request a refund; policies will vary by airlines, but make sure you know your rights upfront to ensure your rebooking is of limited cost or you can get a refund.
  • If you are unsure if you will need to cancel your trip or if your airline will force the cancellation, check with hotels and activity providers to ensure you are clear on cancellation and refund policy. Like the airlines, many providers are working on special provisions to help clients.
  • All air travelers coming into Italy should expect temperature screening on arrival on all international (including European) and domestic flights into Italy’s major airports as well as upon departure for most non-Schengen countries.

Coronavirus Italy resources:

  • For a real-time map of confirmed cases, by region, check Repubblica.it.
  • US Embassy Coronavirus Italy travel information, click here.
  • Italian National Institute of Health’s website (Italian), click here.
  • If you are in the country and are exhibiting symptoms, call Italy’s 112 emergency number or 1500. English speaking operators are available.
  • WHO COVID-19 Protection Measures, click here.

 

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