With sunny blue skies and the onset of spring on the horizon, this would normally be a glorious time to be out and about in Italy. Instead I’m cooped up at home under the coronavirus lockdown like the rest of Italy’s 60 million population.
Coronavirus in Italy
The COVID-19 pandemic has hit Italy hard and the country is currently the worst affected in Europe. The figures are changing daily but at the time of writing more than 15,000 cases had been reported and nearly 2000 deaths, many in the northern regions of Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna and the Veneto.
To try and contain the outbreak, the Italian government has introduced a series of unprecedented measures. All museums, cultural sights, ski resorts, restaurants, clubs, bars and shops (except for food stores and pharmacies) have been closed. Social gatherings have been banned and all non-essential travel has been forbidden. You can now only move around the country for work or health reasons, or to get home.
Read more: Should I cancel my travel plans in light of the coronavirus outbreak?
What’s it like in Italy right now?
In a word, weird. The streets are much quieter than usual, though there are still people about during the day, and a strange quiet hangs in the air. It’s as if the volume has been turned down to two from the normal 11.
The situation is obviously dominating conversations and people are talking about little else, both in person and on Italy’s endless TV chat shows.
But life goes on. The schools might be shut but stuck-at-home kids are having lessons online and the streets are still being cleaned. The post is getting through and fresh bread is still being delivered to my local shop each morning, even if we have to queue outside to ensure a safe distance between shoppers. You can still get takeaway pizza delivered.
The atmosphere is subdued, but people have quickly adapted and there’s a growing sense of ‘we’re all in it together’. On Twitter, users are declaring #iorestoacasa (#imstayingathome).
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What’s the advice?
Don't travel to Italy now. Once the coronavirus crisis has passed and the country’s great monuments and museums re-open for business, that will be the time to come.
Until then, travelling in Italy is not recommended. It is still possible – buses and trains are running and most airports are open – but for any trip you make you’re required to fill in a form declaring the reasons for it. This must then be presented at one of the many checkpoints that have been set up at train station and airports as well as on major roads.
Many countries are currently advising against travel to Italy. The British FCO, like the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is warning against all but essential travel to Italy. The US State Department and Australia’s Smarttraveller are recommending travellers ‘reconsider’ travel to the country.
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The situation is changing rapidly but many airlines have suspended flights to/from Italy. British Airways, Ryanair, EasyJet, Air France and Norwegian Air have halted all flights into and out of the country. American Airlines and Delta have also suspended all flights, while Emirates has cut services.
Italy’s flag-carrier, Alitalia, has suspended all flights to/from Milan’s Malpensa airport, its main northern Italian hub.
Down in Rome, Ciampino airport has closed and Terminal 1 at Fiumicino airport (Italy’s main intercontinental gateway) is to close temporarily from 17 March.
A growing list of countries has banned flights to/from Italy. At the time of writing these included Spain, Portugal, Denmark, and Canada.
If you have flights booked, contact your airline or travel agent for more detailed information.
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The Australian and US governments have both introduced travel bans. In the US’s case, it applies to travellers from the UK, Ireland and all 26 European Schengen countries; in Australia’s case, to travellers from Italy and three other countries. In both cases, citizens, permanent residents and immediate family members returning home are exempt but are being asked to self-quarantine for 14 days.
Read more: The US has announced a ban on travellers from Europe - so what does that mean?
This article was first published on 13 March and updated on 16 March, 2020.
The novel coronavirus (Covid-19) is now a global pandemic. Find out what this means for travelers.