Coronavirus: northern Italy implements severe travel restrictions as Italian wine professionals face “discrimination” in U.S.

Above: Milan’s iconic cathedral on Monday morning around 10 a.m. On a normal day, this piazza would be full of commuters and shoppers (photo by Giovanni Contrada).

Early Sunday morning, in its ongoing efforts to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus, the Italian government announced severe restrictions for movement across a broad swath of northern Italy, affecting roughly 16 million people.

Later in the day, the U.S. embassy in Rome issued the following statement:

    On March 8, 2020, the Government of Italy signed a decree that requires individuals to avoid movement to and from and within certain areas unless one can demonstrate an essential work-related reason or other necessity such as an emergency health-related reason. It remains unclear what mechanisms the Italian government foresees to enforce the provisions of the decree.
    These areas include Lombardy region; the provinces of Padova, Treviso, and Venice in Veneto region; the provinces of Alessandria, Asti, Novara, Verbano Cusio Ossola, and Vercelli in Piemonte region; the provinces of Modena, Parma, Piacenza, Reggio nell’Emilia, and Rimini in Emilia Romagna region; and the province of Pesaro-Urbino bordering the Republic of San Marino in Marche region.
    The decree is in force through April 3 and also details restrictions for the rest of Italy, such as certain large gatherings, school closures at various levels, and the closing of civil and religious ceremonies, gyms and swimming pools, theaters. museums and cultural centers. Public transportation including trains and airlines continues, but travelers should check with carriers for any schedule updates.

Above: Milan’s canal district, known as the Navigli, deserted on Monday morning (photo by Giovanni Contrada).

According to the latest update published by the Italian health ministry (6 p.m. local time, March 8), there have been 7,375 reported cases of persons infected with the virus in the country, with 6,387 persons currently testing positive. 622 persons have recovered after being infected. 3,557 persons with symptoms are currently hospitalized, 650 are in intensive care, and 2,180 are in home isolation. As of last night, 366 had died as a result of the virus (although this number is still being verified by authorities).

There is still widespread confusion as to how the northern lockdown will be implemented and who will be allowed to enter and leave the restricted zones.

Milan’s central train station was overwhelmed on Sunday as thousands of southern Italians hoped to leave the city before restrictions went into effect.

None of my Italy-based colleagues I spoke to today know exactly how strictly their movement will be monitored in coming days or how the new measures will be enforced.

According to mainstream media reports, the Milan airports are still open although Alitalia has cancelled all flights to and from Malpensa (the city’s international hub). At least one masthead reported that Alitalia is still flying in and out of Linate, the city’s smaller airport.

As the number of infections continues to grow, there seems to be no indication of when the crisis will begin to subside.

Above: leading Italian wine critic James Suckling (center, right) presented his Great Wines of Italy event Friday in Miami. Many, including me, applauded him as a hero of Italian wine for his efforts this week in the face of the growing health crisis.

In the meantime, here in the U.S., traveling Italian wine professionals were turned away last week when the Manhattan venue hosting the James Suckling Great Wines of Italy tasting refused to allow them on the premises.

In an Instagram video that has since gone viral within the Italian wine community, San Diego-based Italian wine professional Laura Donadoni described her dismay when she learned of what she termed “discrimination” toward her fellow Italians in New York and at other tastings across the U.S. this week.

Thankfully, Suckling was able to secure a new venue for the event and did not have to reschedule.

On Friday, I attended the last stop of the Great Wines of Italy tour in Miami where the event went off without a hitch, although many attendees told me that there were fewer people than last year. Over the weekend, a few wine enthusiasts told me privately that they decided not to attend the event for fear of contracting the virus (although they all insisted that they were avoiding “public gatherings” and not Italians per se).

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