Updated 12 March:
The only constant is change. Things are developing and evolving so quickly here in Rome that I have decided to keep all of the earlier information unedited, as a type of record of the strange times we live in.
Reality of Life in Rome – as of 12 March
Life in Rome is no longer normal. All of Italy has been put under a lockdown which has become more stringent nearly every day. All of Italy is closed. Only essential services remain operational. This means that:
- One person per family can leave to go shopping. Supermarkets and other food vendors like butchers can remain open.
- You can go to the pharmacy and medical appointments – alone. If you are going to the hospital, one person can go with you.
- You can go outside to exercise or walk your dog, alone, but you are asked to make this as short as possible and do so only when necessary.
- You should carry a document with you that explains your purpose for being outside.
- You can buy cigarettes, gasoline, and newspapers. Businesses that sell these can stay open until 6 pm.
- All other businesses are closed. That means, for example, every single restaurant and coffee bar in all of Italy is closed.
- These restrictions will be in place for at least 14 days. Schools are closed along with cultural institutions, until at least April 3rd.
- We are fine and we think this is all necessary.
As of 11 March, Italy has had (statistics are updated via press conference at 6 pm every day):
- 12,462 people test positive for coronavirus
- 827 deaths
- 1,045 people cured
The hospitals in the hardest-hit areas of the north are completely full. They are having to make wartime decisions about who to save. For that reason, we are all staying home. The only way to slow the spread is to have as little social interaction as possible. We cannot go meet our friends, we cannot resume our normal work. We are waiting and feel this is needed for the greater good.
Advice/Notice from the American Embassy in Rome:
Health Alert – U.S. Embassy Rome, Italy – March 12, 2020
Event: Due to reduced staffing that went into effect March 11, only emergency American Citizen Services and emergency visa services are available at the U.S. Embassy in Rome and Consulates General Milan, Naples, and Florence.
The CDC advises travelers to avoid nonessential travel to Italy and State Department currently recommends U.S. citizens reconsider travel. See CDC information regarding high-risk traveler categories.
On March 11, the U.S. Government issued a proclamation that suspends the entry of immigrants or nonimmigrants who were physically present within the Schengen Area (including Italy) during the 14-day period preceding their entry or attempted entry into the United States. The proclamation does not apply to U.S. citizens, lawful permanent residents, spouses of U.S. citizens or lawful permanent residents, diplomatic and official travelers, air and sea crew members, members of the U.S. Armed Forces and their spouses and children, and certain other categories of travelers.
The proclamation is effective at 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (U.S. time) on March 13. The proclamation does not apply to persons aboard a flight scheduled to arrive in the United States that departed prior to 11:59 p.m. Eastern Daylight Time (U.S. time) on March 13. Travelers should check with their airlines or cruise lines regarding any updated information about their travel plans and/or restrictions. For the full text of the proclamation, see https://www.whitehouse.gov/presidential-actions/.
On March 11, the Italian government issued a decree https://bit.ly/2U1cDNg that further prohibits 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. The decree also cancels sporting events and public gatherings and closes restaurants, bars and pubs, and recreational facilities through March 25. Schools and universities are closed until April 3. Pharmacies remain open. The Italian government has stated the new decree does not prevent travelers from departing Italy.
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 their destination. Italian officials have also noted that checkpoints may be established on highways to collect these forms.
In areas of Italy with large numbers of COVID-19 cases, the local healthcare system is under significant strain. Public transportation including airlines, trains, and buses continue to operate, but with reduced frequency. Travelers should check carrier schedules for the latest updates and work directly with the carrier or travel agent to arrange or reschedule travel. Travelers should be prepared for the possibility of additional travel restrictions to be implemented with little or no advance notice.
Actions to Take:
- Call Italy’s 112 emergency number or 1500 if you believe you have symptoms and are currently in Italy. English speaking operators are available.
- Consult the CDC website for the most up-to-date information on the disease.
- For information on what you can do to reduce your risk of contracting COVID-19, please see the CDC’s latest recommendations.
- Visit the COVID-19 crisis page on travel.state.gov for the latest information regarding foreign countries’ quarantine requirements and other global impacts.
- Check with your airlines or cruise lines regarding any updated information about your travel plans and/or restrictions.
- Visit our Embassy webpage on COVID-19 for information on conditions in Italy.
- Visit the Department of Homeland Security’s website on the latest travel restrictions affecting travel to the U.S.
- Review the Italian National Institute of Health’s website (available only in Italian).
Updated: 8 March 2020. With all of the recent news, I think it is normal that the questions I am seeing most often are about if Rome is safe during the coronavirus outbreak. Or even: should I cancel my trip to Italy because of coronavirus?
Ultimately, the choice to travel is a very personal one. This is true in any situation. At this time, listen to the experts and follow official guidance from Italian officials and your own government. Let that guide you in your choices, but know that all of Lombardy (including Milan), parts of Veneto (including the city of Venice), and areas in Emilia-Romagna (such as Modena), are not allowing ANY entrances or exits until 3 April. You cannot travel to these regions before then, and these restricted areas could change/be extended at any time.
To be very clear: I am not a public health expert. If you are interested in Rome and the coronavirus, and what is happening in Italy because of COVID-19, I am here to share insights as a resident of the city and offer official sources for information.
Because the situation with coronavirus is evolving quickly around the world, I will date the updates below so that you can be sure you are reading the most recent information about Rome and the novel coronavirus.
The Reality in Rome – as of 8 March 2020
Life in Rome continues on as pretty much normal with two exceptions: 1. the crowds are gone which makes it feels a bit surreal to see the sites with so few people. 2. School has just been canceled from 5-15 March. Schools were already closed in three northern regions, but this has now been applied countrywide.
All museums and theaters are closed as of 8 March in the entire country. This includes archeological sites and libraries, as well. The closures will likely last for one month.
What this means is that Rome still has:
- No food shortages
- No talk of quarantine
There are very few cases of the virus in our region and all have been tied to travel or contact with people who live in Northern Italy:
- There are 76 active cases in Lazio, the region Rome is located in, but they do not believe that there is a local hotspot at this time. Most of the cases can be traced back to northern Italy, which is still where a vast majority of the positives have been. Here is a global map with the latest statistics.
Pharmacies and grocery stores are sold out of hand sanitizer and face masks, but we don’t see anyone actually wearing face masks around our area of the city. It feels quieter than normal but people are out. With the new restrictions released 8 March on all gathering private and public, this will probably change. Pubs and nightclubs will have to close. Businesses such as hotels, restaurants in the center, and tour companies are suffering the most.
However, given how quickly the red zone was extended in Northern Italy – from covering 0.089% of the population to a full 25% of the population of Italy – it would be risky to continue with any trip that is set to occur before April 3, 2020.
Coronavirus in Italy: The Numbers
There are no restrictions on traveling in or around Rome but 8 March vastly changed the restrictions around the country. There are now 16 million people living in red zones. They are allowed out of their homes, but they are not allowed to leave their regions/cities. This means no exits and no entrances until at least April 3, 2020.
As of Saturday (March 7th): there have been 5,061 cases confirmed (including over 500 who have fully recovered) within a population of close 60 million. This was a big jump (1,145) from the day before so it does not seem to be slowing down at this time.
A majority of the positives are experiencing mild symptoms and are quarantined at home. There have been 233 deaths reported. Italy has the oldest population in Europe, and the deaths have been among patients with an average age of 80, many of whom had underlying conditions including cancer. Though the average age was high, these are still mothers, fathers, spouses, and grandparents, so I don’t want to undercut the tragedy of their deaths.
The World Health Organization has praised Italy’s response to the outbreak but hospitals are becoming strained.
Italy currently has the highest number of cases in Europe but it has also been the most aggressive in testing for the virus, which often presents with the same symptoms as the flu. This high testing may be one of the reasons that the cases have been uncovered. (Source) Italy has tested over 42,000 people.
Official Information Sources for Italy Coronavirus Updates
Social media is not the best place to turn for updates on the coronavirus in Italy. If you want to stay informed of the COVID-19 situation in Rome and Italy more broadly.
For official data, visit:
- Italian Ministry of Health Coronavirus Page (in Italian)
- Italian Civil Protection Updates (in English)
- Center for Disease Control Italy Page (Based in the United States). Late on 28 February, the CDC issued a Level 3 travel advisory for Italy, recommending avoiding non-essential travel. On 29 February, the travel advisory was raised to level 4 for the Veneto and Lombardy – Do not travel. There are no bans on flights but many airlines are canceling due to lack of demand.
- US Embassy in Italy Coronavirus Information
- Italian news sources include Corriere della Sera and La Repubblica
Precautions to Take
- Wash your hands for at least 20 seconds.
- Avoid touching your face with unwashed hands.
- Abide by official instructions to avoid quarantined towns in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto (far north of Rome).
- Enroll in your government’s travel alert program. For example, the CDC is not recommending canceling or postponing trips to Italy but since restrictions can change quickly, it is best to know how your government will inform you.
- Speak with your healthcare provider before making or changing plans if you are in a high-risk group.
- Call 1500 if you are experiencing symptoms in Italy. English-speaking operators will be available.
Additionally, as of 4 March the Italian officials have issued the following suggestions:
- No hugging or kissing to greet people
- People over the age of 75 should stay home
- Stay home if you experience any fever
Official recommendations from the US Embassy in Rome are:
- Read the Centers for Disease Control’s guidelines for the prevention of coronavirus and information on health conditions in Italy.
- Review the Embassy’s latest alerts for additional information regarding COVID-19 in Italy.
- Follow Italian health official guidance and avoid government-designated affected areas.
- Be aware of your surroundings when traveling to tourist locations and crowded public venues.
- Follow the instructions of local authorities.
- Monitor local media for breaking events and adjust your plans based on new information.
- Enroll in the Smart Traveler Enrollment Program (STEP) to receive Alerts and make it easier to locate you in an emergency.
- Follow the Department of State on Facebook and Twitter.
- Review the Crime and Safety Reports for Italy.
- Prepare a contingency plan for emergency situations. Review the Traveler’s Checklist.
Travel Bans on Those Traveling to Italy
It is important to be clear the US government as issued advisories but these are not restrictions or bans. They are in place to help travelers make informed decisions. However, the situation is fluid.
Actual bans on those traveling to/from Italy include:
- All passengers leaving Italy on US-bound flights will have their temperature taken. If you have a temperature of 99.5F or above, you will not be permitted to board.
- Kuwait. All flights to and from Italy have been canceled.
- Vietnam has directed passengers on all inbound flights from South Korea, Italy, and Iran, as well as those who have transited through these countries in the last 14 days, to be subject to intensive screening upon arrival. Travelers entering Vietnam may be subject to quarantine or return to point of departure.
- China announced on 3 March it would seek to quarantine arrivals from Italy.
- The Maldives is not accepting arrivals from Italy.
What to Expect Traveling to Rome
All passengers arriving at Italian airports will have their temperature taken. This screening has been in place for about a month now. You may see some visitors wearing masks but I have only seen one person wearing a mask in the last several days. There is nothing else out of the ordinary in Rome except that the crowds are smaller than usual.