CHARLOTTE, NC — After months of planning in eager anticipation of your next great travel adventure, you pick up your bags, walk out the door and BAM!…A pandemic hits you squarely between the eyes. What do you do? How do you decide whether to go or not to go as coronavirus fears reach a fever pitch around the world, particularly with regard to China, South Korea and Italy? At least at this moment?
Media vs travel interests
On the one hand, the media wants to sell as many newspapers and magazines as possible. So their motives may skew in the direction of fear. That could help them drag the out the story as long as possible, making things appear more dire than they really are. After all, such efforts reliably help to generate additional income.
Meanwhile, on the other hand, the hospitality / tourism industry has a tendency to “ACC-entuate the positive and Eee-liminate the negative.” Their efforts tend to downplay the seriousness of a given situation to help minimize lost revenue due to cancellations.
All of this can often leave travelers floundering around in travelers’ purgatory with little reliable knowledge of how to proceed.
Coronavirus fears hit Italy and other parts of Europe
Coronavirus, now affectionately known throughout the world as Covid-19, is beginning to raise concerns that the outbreak which began in China may become a worldwide pandemic. Last weekend, Italy became the latest hotspot for the virus and the first in Europe. Until now the disease had been pretty much confined to Asia.
As of this writing it is still unclear how Covid-19 got into Italy. But officials say the outbreak is concentrated in the northern regions of Lombardy which includes Milan and Venice. Currently, at least 11 small Italian towns are on complete lockdown. However, Milan and Venice remain open.
While smaller Italian villages have been locked down, tourism has not been substantially disrupted because those destinations do not receive high volumes of visitors anyway, even under normal conditions.
Where to go for information
Keep in mind that, for the moment at least, the situation is extremely fluid and the best way to get up-to-the-minute information on current coronavirus fears is by constantly checking local websites as well as the Center for Disease Control (CDC) in the United States.
Quickly following the earliest reports from Italy, other government officials reported no new cases in Spain, Austria, Croatia and France. However each affected individual proved either a traveler or an Italian national who recently traveled to Lombardy.
Cancellations in Milan and Venice
As already noted, more notable for travelers is how closures are affecting larger destinations such as Milan and Venice.
In Milan, the local government closed the Duomo di Milano, La Sala opera house and the Fondazione Prada museum. The city’s bars and cafés must now close starting at 6 p.m. daily.
Early on, government officials in Venice likewise cancelled this year’s Carnival celebrations in in that popular destination. In addition, the government also shuttered several popular museum attractions here such as the Peggy Guggenheim Collection, the Palazzo Ducale in Piazza San Marco and the Museo del Vetro.
All public events have been canceled as well and local government officials are also discouraging people from gathering publicly. Closures are set to last until March 1 at which time the government will evaluate the situation and take action accordingly.
Elsewhere in Italy
For the moment, regions beyond northern Italy, like Rome, appear to be operating normally for the most part.
International travel and internal travel are key factors to consider when making decisions on whether or not to travel. To date, no U.S.-based airlines have canceled flights to Italy. However, it is critical at this point for travelers to check and double-check airline offers and cancellations on a regular basis.
Airlines frequently operate like sheep in the sense that when one carrier makes a change the others follow.
Thanks to Covid-19, one (hopefully temporary) change travelers may now face involves coronavirus checkpoints. The Italian government established these checkpoints in Italy’s airports to identify individuals with symptoms of the virus. As a result, fliers should anticipate longer wait times.
For now, high speed trains continue to run between Italian cities, though there have been some disruptions to service.
Updates regarding train services and refund offers on train tickets can be found on the websites of major railway companies like Trenitalia.
Thus far, Italy’s neighbors like Austria and Switzerland have continued their open border policies, but there is constant evaluation to assess the problem.
What if your scheduled trip is imminent?
Travelers with imminent plans have the most difficult decisions to make with regard to the current coronavirus fears. The popular travel magazine Conde Nast Traveler recommends that you postpone your trip if it is coming within the next week or so “not because there is fear of catching the virus, but because of closures and disruptions that could negatively affect the traveler’s visit.”
Most travel experts say there is no need to panic yet. That’s due to the fact that the coronavirus problem in Italy arose so quickly. Many feel the immediate situation appears worse than usual. This likely happened due to the hasty precautionary actions the Italian government undertook.
For spring and summer travel, it’s probably best to play it cool until it’s closer to the time to travel, but keep a vigilant eye for any developments.
If nothing else, there has never been a better time to buy some peace of mind by purchasing travel insurance.
— Headline image: Civil Protection volunteers carrying out health checks at the Guglielmo Marconi Airport in Bologna.
Image via Wikipedia entry on the 2020 coronavirus outbreak in Italy. Italian government photo, CC 2.0 license.
About the Author:
Bob Taylor is a veteran writer who has traveled throughout the world. Taylor was an award winning television producer/reporter/anchor before focusing on writing about international events, people and cultures around the globe.
He is founder of The Magellan Travel Club (www.MagellanTravelClub.com)
His goal is to visit 100 countries or more during his lifetime.
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