The coronavirus has struck Italy very hard, with more than 27,000 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) as of March 16, 2020.
Of those cases, more than 2,100 people died. Ninety-two percent of the cases were mild. However, as the virus explodes across Italy despite the unprecedented lockdown, hospitals are overwhelmed and doctors are facing the awful choice of deciding who lives and who dies. According to The New York Times, Italy’s population is the oldest in Europe, which is contributing to the death toll because coronavirus generally hits the elderly hardest.
Showing how fast this is growing: The New York Times reported on March 8, 2020 that Italy has 7,350 of the world’s 109,400 cases, and “more than 360 of some 3,800 deaths.”
Those numbers are up from 150 on February 23, when the majority were in the Province of Lodi, according to the U.S. Embassy.
According to Al-Jazeera, as of February 29, there were 1,128 coronavirus cases confirmed in Italy, rising from 888 the day before.
Concerns about the deadly virus continue to escalate throughout the globe. The New York Times described the Italy coronavirus outbreak as Europe’s “first major outbreak of the coronavirus.” The prime minister of Italy announced that “extraordinary measures” would be taken to stop the virus.
As of March 16, 2020, the U.S. Embassy in Italy was advising that people reconsider travel to Italy and avoid travel to Lombardy and Veneto “due to the level of community transmission of the virus and imposition of local quarantine procedures.”
“The Italian government has announced that law enforcement authorities would establish checkpoints at airports and train stations to collect self-declaration forms from travelers specifying the purpose of their movement and destination. Italian officials have also noted that checkpoints may be established on highways to collect these forms,” the Embassy adds.
Here’s what you need to know:
1. The Confirmed Cases Started in the Lombardy Region of Italy
You can trace the origins of the outbreak in Italy through the safety alerts. The February 28, 2020 advisory for Italy stated, “A novel coronavirus is causing an outbreak of respiratory illness (COVID-19) in Italy. Illness with this virus has ranged from mild to severe. Signs and symptoms of infection include fever, cough, and difficulty breathing. Sore throat also has been reported in some patients. Some patients also have reported diarrhea without other symptoms. This new coronavirus has caused severe disease and death in patients who developed pneumonia. Risk factors for severe illness are not yet clear, although older adults and those with chronic medical conditions may be at higher risk for severe illness.”
The Overseas Security Advisory Council, Bureau of Diplomatic Security for the U.S. Department of State, wrote that, on February 21, the Italian Ministry of Health “announced 14 confirmed case of novel Coronavirus (COVID-19) in the town of Codogno in the Lombardy region and two cases in Vo’ Euganeo near Padua.”
The locations affected were described as “Region of Lombardy, Codogno and surrounding towns of Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo, and San Fiorano.” Location 2 was given as “Vo’Euganeo in the Veneto region.”
The New York Times reported that 10 towns were locked down and there is a “cluster of cases” in Codogno, near Milan. That, of course, later expanded to the entire country.
However, by February 23, 2020, the U.S. Embassy in Italy was reporting: “Officials count over 150 confirmed cases of novel coronavirus (COVID-19) in Italy, the majority of which are in the Province of Lodi in the south of the Lombardy region. Two cases have been confirmed in Milan, and one each in Bergamo, Monza, and Turin. Cases have also been reported in the areas of Brescia, Cremona, and Pavia. Lombardy regional officials have cancelled schools for the week. City, regional and national officials continue to meet and assess the situation as more information becomes known.”
The State Department added, “Public schools and offices have been closed in the affected areas and Italian health officials have advised residents in these areas to avoid public spaces. Travelers in the area should be prepared for travel restrictions to be put into effect with little or no advance notice.”
You can see the State Department’s page for Italy here.
2. Passengers Were Tested on a Train & Venice Carnival Was Shut Down
The Italian coronavirus scare quickly led to noticeable changes. According to The New York Times, in the early stages of it all, passengers were tested on a train from Italy to Austria, but no infected people were found. Store shelves in Italy were empty as people went into a panic.
BBC reported that the famous Venice Carnival was “cut short.” The quarantine in affected towns involves about 50,000 people, according to BBC. They aren’t allowed to leave town for two weeks “without special permission.” According to BBC, sporting events and schools are shutting down activities even outside the locked down towns.
A ship carrying migrants to Italy was placed in quarantine, according to its Twitter page, which read, “The #OceanViking has moved to anchor outside the port of #Pozzallo, where the #MSF & @SOSMedIntl rescue ship has been instructed to remain in quarantine for 14 days. Italian authorities say this is a precautionary measure in response to the COVID-19 outbreak.” South Korea and Iran are also reporting cases.
Then came the lockdowns. “On March 9, 2020, the Italian government released a decree prohibiting movement in public places except for justifiable work reasons (commuting, public and commercial transport is allowed), basic necessities (i.e., food shopping), and health emergencies. he decree also cancels sporting events and public gatherings and closes schools, universities, and recreational facilities through April 3. The Italian government has stated this decree does not prevent travelers from departing Italy,” the U.S. Embassy states.
3. Funerals Are Now Illegal in Italy & Millions Are on Lockdown
Heartbreaking stories have emerged from Italy. For one, funerals are now banned. “Traditional funeral services are illegal throughout Italy now, part of the national restrictions against gatherings,” The New York Times reported.
According to the Times, due to the national lockdown, “60 million Italians are essentially under house arrest.”
Snopes examined claims that Italian doctors have been forced to stop treating the elderly, especially those over 80. “Italy did not announce it would abandon elderly patients with COVID-19 wholesale. Instead, health care workers in various circumstances and locales might be forced to ration treatment and make judgments based on who is expected to live longest, if treated,” Snopes reported.
According to the U.S. Embassy’s health alert, “The U.S. Embassy continues to monitor the health situation in Italy and recommends that individuals follow Italian health official guidance and avoid government-designated affected areas. Due to reduced staffing levels, the U.S. Consulate General in Milan has suspended routine visa services until March 2, 2020. Both routine and emergency American Citizen Services will continue at the Consulate General in Milan. Full consular services are also available at the Embassy in Rome and the Consulates General in Florence and Naples.”
The Embassy added, “Coronavirus infection rates are still very low, but those concerned that they are presenting multiple symptoms should contact 112 or 1500 to consult with Italian emergency healthcare professionals.”
4. The U.S. Military Is Taking Precautionary Steps in Italy
The U.S. military in Italy is exercising caution in the wake of the coronavirus reports.
“As a precautionary measure USAG Italy will close all Vicenza Military Community (VMC) DODEA schools and activities, CDC, and CYS activities, fitness centers on Ederle and Del Din, AAFES post theater and chapel worship services from Monday through Wednesday, Feb 24-26,” Col. Daniel J. Vogel, USAG Italy Garrison Commander, said in a release, according to CNN.
Vogel added: “As of 4 p.m., Feb. 23, there are zero confirmed cases within the city of Vicenza, the Vicenza Military Community, Darby Military Community, or Ghedi Military Community. As of 8:30 a.m. on Feb. 23, there are 17 cases of the coronavirus in the Italian Veneto region, and a total of 79 confirmed cases in Italy.”
5. The U.S. Embassy Lists Suggested Actions
The Embassy suggests the following actions:
“Contact the State Department’s Office of Overseas Citizen Services for questions regarding COVID-19 at 888-407-4747 (Monday to Friday, 8:00am to 8:00pm EST).
Consult the CDC website, for the most up-to-date information regarding enhanced screening procedures.
Review the Department of State’s COVID-19 Travel Alert.
Check with the airlines regarding any flight cancellations and/or restrictions on flying.
Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, or mouth with unwashed hands.
Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue or your sleeve (not your hands) when coughing or sneezing.”
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