COVID-19 has forced the whole of Italy to go into lockdown, restricting the movements of more than 60 million residents.
But it’s not just the locals — tourists are going to be affected as well.
Let’s unpack what’s going on in Italy.
Why is the coronavirus so bad in Italy?
COVID-19 has a more severe effect on the elderly and people with existing medical conditions than young, previously healthy patients.
And Italy has a large older population.
A 2019 report from the UN says 23 per cent of Italy’s population is 65 or older.
“Italy is a country of old people,” Massimo Galli, the director of infectious diseases at a Milan hospital, told The Guardian.
“The elderly with previous pathologies are notoriously numerous here.
“I think this could explain why we are seeing more serious cases of coronavirus here, which I repeat, in the vast majority of cases start mildly and cause few problems, especially in young people and certainly in children.”
It’s thought the Italian outbreak started with one person who returned to Italy in the asymptomatic phase — which means they didn’t show any symptoms but could still spread the virus.
Lombardy president Attilio Fontana told the New York Times that experts were trying to work out who was Italy’s “patient zero”.
Officials believe it could be “an Italian citizen with Chinese origins” who went to China in January.
This person is believed to have come into contact with another person who went to the Lombardy town of Codogno.
This second person is thought to have had contact with the 38-year-old Italian man who became the country’s first locally-transmitted confirmed case of the virus.
He tested positive on February 21 and required intensive care but doctors say he was moved out of intensive care on Monday and is now breathing on his own.
More than 9,000 cases of the virus have been confirmed in Italy and there have been more than 460 COVID-19 deaths. That’s the most deaths reported outside of China.
What did Italy do?
Its government brought in sweeping lockdown restrictions for the entire country — we heard this news on Tuesday morning.
The new decree, signed by Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte, clamps down on people travelling outside the areas where they live.
To move beyond these areas, people need to prove they have to do so for work, medical reasons, emergencies, family needs or if they’re returning home.
In short, people have been told to “stay at home”.
Italian media have reported those who ignore the rules — or don’t have a valid reason to be out and about — face a fine of 206 euros ($356) or up to three months in prison.
Public events have been banned, including sporting matches. Weddings and funerals have also been banned.
Museums, theatres and gyms have also been closed. Schools and universities have closed.
And there’s a curfew on bars, restaurants and cafes — they can only be open from 6:00am to 6:00pm.
“This nightlife … we can’t allow this anymore,” Mr Conte said.
The government has even gone as far as to tell shops and restaurants to keep patrons at least a metre apart.
How long will this be in place?
At this stage, the decree will be in effect until April 3.
However, it’s possible this date could be pushed back.
What’s the latest travel advice?
The Smart Traveller website, which was updated on Tuesday afternoon with upgraded warnings, tells Australians to “reconsider your need to travel” to Italy.
A “do not travel” warning was put in place for the region of Lombardy and more than a dozen provinces introduced over the weekend, including tourist hotspots such as Milan and Venice.
“If you decide to stay in Italy, follow the advice of local authorities,” the website says.
“You can still enter and leave Italy if you need to.
“Airports are open, but expect travel disruptions.”
However, the site advises travellers it’s their responsibility to reduce their risks and the Australian Government is “limited in how and when it can help if you get into trouble”.
If you’re travelling from Italy to another country, remember that other countries have put restrictions on people who have come from Italy.
Check with the embassy or consulate in the country you’re planning on travelling to before you go, to make sure you aren’t caught up in quarantine.
What about if I’m coming back from Italy?
The Australian Government extended its travel ban to Italy on Wednesday morning.
If you’re an Australian citizen or a permanent resident, you will still be allowed to come home to Australia.
And your immediate family — which the Government classifies as spouses, legal guardians and dependents — can come in too.
But you will need to isolate yourself for a fortnight.
Foreign nationals who have been in Italy won’t be allowed into Australia until 14 days after they left the country.
That means they will have to spend two weeks in another country before coming to Australia.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said these new measures would be enforced from 6:00pm on Wednesday.
This ban runs concurrently with an existing ban on travellers from Iran, China and South Korea.
It is due to expire on Saturday, but the Australian Government will tomorrow consider whether these bans will be extended beyond the weekend.
What do I do if I get sick in Italy?
Australia has a Reciprocal Health Care Agreement with Italy.
This means you can get treated in public medical facilities if you show your Medicare card and passport.
To be eligible, you have to have been in Italy for less than six months and it has to be deemed “essential care that can’t wait till you get home”.
Here’s what the agreement covers:
- Care as a hospital patient or out-patient at public and authorised hospitals
- GP and specialist care from public clinics, health centres and authorised hospitals and clinics
- Urgent dental care at public hospitals
But Smart Traveller says you still need travel insurance, especially as the agreement doesn’t cover medicines or tests.
It’s unclear if this means Australians will be charged for being tested for coronavirus in Italy.