Italy is on lockdown
On Monday, 9 March, the Prime Minister of Italy, Giuseppe Conte, announced that a nationwide lockdown would be implemented with immediate effect in a bid to reduce the transmission rate of Covid-19, a strain of coronavirus which has gripped the country in recent weeks. The emergency measure is the latest in a series of legally binding restrictions designed to limit the potential for person-to-person transfer among the general population and represents an expansion of a smaller-scale lockdown which was implemented last week in 14 of the worst affected provinces. These so-called ‘red zones’ are primarily located in the north of the country where, according to the latest genomic assessments, the virus was introduced by foreign travellers on two separate occasions. The government hopes that the new measures will lead to a reduction in the reported number of new cases which has seen exponential growth on a daily basis over the last seven days.
What are the restrictions?
- Public venues including cinemas, theatres, cafes, nightclubs and restaurants have been told to close for the duration of the lockdown. This has superseded a previous restriction that mandated restaurants and bars to close at 1800hrs each day.
- Religious and state ceremonies, including catholic Mass, funerals, weddings and christenings will also be cancelled or postponed until after the restrictions are lifted.
- All schools, kindergartens and universities have been told to close and introduce remote learning through online portals and webinars if possible.
- All sporting events, festivals, gigs and concerts have been cancelled.
- The use of public transport has been restricted to those who can prove they have an essential requirement for work or important personal reason for travel. These passengers are required to carry a document explaining their situation which is subject to scrutiny by the authorities.
- Large shopping centres were initially instructed to close over the weekend but remain open during weekdays. However, these restrictions have since been updated to include the full closure of all shops except food stores and pharmacies.
- Smaller grocery shops are allowed to remain open but are required to keep customers one metre apart from each other at all times.
- Leave has been cancelled for all health workers including doctors, nurses, paramedics and support staff.
- Members of the public have been barred from visiting hospitals unless they have specific permission to do so.
- Individuals who flaunt any of the above restrictions face an on-the-spot fine of 206 Euros, and a jail term of up to three months for repeat offenders.
- The above measures are provisionally set to remain in place until Friday, 3 April; however it is possible that this timeframe will be revised and the restrictions extended in the event that there is no significant reduction in the transmission rate within this timeframe.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) situation in Italy
Italy has quickly become one of the worst affected countries outside of China, as exponential growth in the infection rate has raised concerns that up to a fifth of the population could become ill at any given time. As of 1200 on Thursday 12 March, the Italian Health Ministry has reported 12,462 confirmed cases of the Covid-19 strain of coronavirus, 10,590 of which are active. A total of 827 people are thought to have died as a result of the infection, although many also suffered from other underlying health conditions.
It has been suggested that Italy’s population may be particularly susceptible to the more serious health complications which can arise from Covid-19 infections such as pneumonia, acute respiratory syndrome (ARS) and acute organ failure. This is largely due to the fact that the country has an ageing population with an average age of 46, making it the fifth highest in the world after Monaco, Japan, Germany and Saint Pierre and Miquelon (according to data collated by the CIA World Factbook). A wider outbreak of the virus could therefore lead to high demand for healthcare resources and a shortage of places in intensive care units. According to local health experts, in such a scenario doctors would be forced to prioritise younger patients with a higher life expectancy, leading to high numbers of fatalities amongst older people.
Panic buying in Italy amidst the coronavirus outbreak. Man in a medical protective mask with an Italian flag and an empty supermarket trolley.
The implications and risk impact on travel
The new emergency measures will affect Italy’s entire population of around 60 million people and have a significant detrimental impact on business, tourism and the national economy. The Italian Treasury has noted that it expects the outbreak to have long-term detrimental effects which could plunge the country into a recession. In order to stave off this threat, the Prime Minister has announced plans to ask the European Commission for flexible borrowing, freeing up at least €7.5 billion to deal with the emergency. This plan will cause the nation’s deficit-to-gross domestic product ratio to rise to 2.5 percent which is not far off the 3 percent limit imposed by the EU to prevent financial crises.
In its first few days the nationwide lockdown has led to a sharp drop-off in pedestrian traffic in major cities like Rome, Milan and Venice. Many supermarkets and food stores reported shortages on Monday and Tuesday as consumer rushed to stockpile items despite attempts by local and national authorities to discourage such behaviour. There have also been some reports of riots in Italian prisons, where inmates protested against restrictions on family visits and other containment measures.
Almost all private sector employers have instructed their employees to work from home where feasible, whilst most tourism-focused companies have suspended operations. At this current juncture, all foreign personnel are advised to avoid all but essential travel to Italy under the circumstances. International companies with assets in the country should monitor announcements by the Italian government and the relevant local authorities and anticipate extensions to the current lockdown period which is provisionally set to expire on 3 April.