Is it safe for travelers to visit Italy?

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(CNN) — The novel coronavirus may have originated in Wuhan, China, but it’s since spread to more than 30 countries across the world.

During a press briefing on Tuesday evening, Angelo Borrelli, head of the country’s Civil Protection agency, confirmed the death toll has risen to 11 and at least 322 people have been infected with coronavirus in Italy.

According to Borrelli, 212 of the cases are in the northern Italian region of Lombardy.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte has attempted to relieve fears after admitting that a “not entirely proper” management of a hospital in northern Italy contributed to the spread of the virus in the country.

“Our health system is excellent, our precautionary measures are of the utmost rigor and we trust that, by virtue of the combined provisions … we will promote a containment effect,” Conte told reporters on Tuesday.

The Italian government has taken “extraordinary measures” to try to control the outbreak, including banning public events in several municipalities and suspending the Venice Carnival.

These recent developments have left those preparing to visit the country with many questions.

So is it still safe for travelers to visit Italy?


Government precautions

At Monday’s press conference, Borrelli said it remains safe to travel to Italy, because the outbreak remains in a contained area and has not spread outside of it.

However, the towns of Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo and San Fiorano in Lombardy and Vo’ Euganeo in Veneto are under lockdown.

People are banned from leaving or entering the affected areas without authorization. As a result, around 100,000 people are facing travel and other restrictions.

“We still cannot identify patient zero, so it’s difficult to forecast possible new cases,” Borrelli said at another news conference on Sunday.

Meanwhile Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza also announced the closure of public buildings and limited transport in these zones.

“We are asking basically that everyone who has come from areas stricken by the epidemic to remain under a mandatory house stay,” Speranza said at a Saturday press conference.

As a result, Italy’s top soccer league, Serie A, canceled at least three games scheduled to be played in Lombardy and Veneto regions.

While areas outside of the “hotpots,” such as Florence and Milan, are deemed safe to visit, at least two of the Veneto region’s 38 cases occurred in the popular tourist destination of Venice.

As a result, Venice Carnival has also been suspended, while museums and cinemas have been shut.

Luca Zaia, the governor of the Veneto region, has confirmed a ban on public and private meetings, along with the closure of schools, universities and museums in the region.

“We ask for the cooperation of all citizens. It’s not an easy moment. But, with the data we have today, we can still hope to limit the contagion,” he said.

Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters Monday that a “not entirely proper” management of a hospital in northern Italy contributed to the spread of the virus in the country.

“Our health system is excellent, our precautionary measures are of the utmost rigor and we trust that, by virtue of the combined provisions … we will promote a containment effect,” Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told reporters on Tuesday.


What do the authorities say?

The US State Department has urged its citizens to “follow Italian health official guidance and avoid government-designated affected areas.”

Any travelers who are currently in these particular areas of Lombardy and Veneto are urged to follow the instructions of local authorities.

But while governments are “monitoring” the situation, travelers have not been advised against travel to Italy.

The UK’s Foreign and Commonwealth Office published updated travel advice Tuesday advising against “all but essential travel” to 11 Italian towns undergoing isolation measures by Italian authorities.

A travel advisory from the UK Department of Health says that travelers returning from northern Italy should self-isolate if they display flu-like symptoms.
The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has also issued travel advisories for Italy, along with Iran, urging visitors to “avoid contact with sick people” and practice good hand hygiene. The countries are currently at CDC’s Alert Level 2, while South Korea has been raised to Warning Level 3.

The developments in Italy, along with South Korea, where cases have surged past 1,260, has increased fears of a spike outside mainland China.

During a press conference last week, the organization’s Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus has stressed that, while there’s still a chance of containing the virus outside China, “the window of opportunity is narrowing.”

“Although the total number of cases outside China remains relatively small, we are concerned about the number of cases with no clear epidemiological link, such as travel history to China or contact with a confirmed case,” he said.


How is the virus being spread?

While there’s much that remains unclear about the outbreak, Dr. Yoko Furuya, associate professor of medicine in the division of infectious diseases at Columbia University Irving Medical Center, has indicated that air travel likely has played a part in the spread of coronavirus.

“When it comes to the global spread of outbreaks, air travel is usually how things kind of spread quickly from country to country,” says Furuya.

While face masks are often suggested as appropriate defenses to help avoid infections, experts say vigorous hand washing offers better protection.

CNN’s James Griffiths, Marnie Hunter, Barbie Latza Nadeau, Livia Borghese, Sharon Braithwaite and Tara John contributed to this report.

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