Three major U.S. carriers with service to Italy — American Airlines, Delta Air Lines and United Airlines — are offering travel waivers to Italy amid the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak.
Delta, which announced the extension of its travel waivers to three Italian airports earlier this week (Bologna, Milan and Venice, originally through March 2) has since extended its waivers to ticketholders traveling on “all flights to/from Italy” through March 15.
Italy’s number of COVID-19 coronavirus cases spiked by more than 50% in just 24 hours and now stands at 650, the Italian Ministry of Health says, adding that 17 people have died from the respiratory virus. More than 400 of the cases are in the hard-hit Lombardy region, where some towns are under a lockdown.
Nearly 250 of the people who were infected are currently in the hospital, including 56 patients who are in intensive care, the Italian ministry says, citing a Thursday afternoon update from Angelo Borrelli, commissioner for the coronavirus emergency. Another 284 people who have been infected are in home isolation to try to stop the coronavirus from spreading further.
The outbreak of COVID-19 in Italy led the U.S. State Department to add concerns about the virus to its travel advisory for Italy this week. The advisory stands at Level 2: “exercise increased caution” – one level short of “reconsider travel.”
Alarmed by the virus’s potential impact on its economy, Italy’s government is urging foreign media to reassure people around the world that it’s safe to visit Italy.
“Tourism is already taking a big hit, with a surge in hotel cancellations,” NPR’s Sylvia Poggioli reports from Rome, “and several American study-abroad programs have shut down.”
Warning against the dangers of spreading fake news about the public health crisis, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio told a gathering of foreign press that the economic damage from an “epidemic” of bad information will do more harm than the virus.
Poggioli adds, “Italian officials also stress that Italy has done much more extensive screening for the virus than any other European country – which may explain why its caseload numbers are so high.”
Concerns about spreading the COVID-19 virus have also forced dramatic changes at the highest levels of Italian soccer. Several Serie A games were recently canceled — and at least five matches will be played in closed stadiums, with no fans in attendance.
‘We are at a decisive point,’ WHO leader says
As of Thursday morning, there were more than 3,474 cases in 44 countries outside of China, WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said at a briefing in Geneva.
“We are at a decisive point,” Tedros said, adding that for two days in a row, there have been more new coronavirus cases reported in the rest of the world than in mainland China, where the virus was identified in December.
The WHO chief added, “in the past 24 hours, seven countries have reported cases for the first time: Brazil, Georgia, Greece, North Macedonia, Norway, Pakistan and Romania.”