Italy’s transport links with the outside were thrown into chaos Tuesday – but not shut down totally – in the wake of the government’s drastic restrictions on travel to contain the coronavirus.
British Airways cancelled all its Italian flights Tuesday while Air France and low-cost carriers Ryanair, Easyjet and Wizz Air said that they would be scrapping flights from Italian airports until early April.
Air Canada took even more drastic measures, suspending flights to Italy until at least May 1.
The Spanish government said Tuesday that it was suspending all air traffic from Italy for two weeks while Austria said it would introduce new restrictions on arrivals from Italy.
However, at Rome’s main Fiumicino airport there were still services running to destinations in Europe and beyond on Tuesday afternoon, as well as to domestic Italian destinations.
The measures came as Europe’s outbreak surged, with Italy’s toll rising by 168 to 631 dead from Covid-19 (the official name for the virus), with 10,149 infected in just over two weeks.
Strict lockdowns and travel restrictions were apparently successful in China but faced a rocky start in Italy, a country of 60 million people where Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte told residents they should travel only for the most urgent work or health reasons.
Flights were also still taking off from the smaller Ciampino airport, used mostly by low-cost carriers.
Tourists welcomed the remaining opportunities to leave, although they were facing longer stays than anticipated.
“We are going to be able to go back because we got a text from our flight,” Mina, a 58-year-old Indian national, said next to Rome’s deserted Colosseum.
She and her family were awaiting further information from their airline, she said.
The ADR company which runs Rome’s airports said that all arriving passengers and all those heading for destinations outside the Schengen zone “will undergo health checks” and have to go through thermal scanners to try to detect any potential fever.
As for rail travel, mask-wearing police at Rome’s main Termini railway station were checking passengers’ reasons for travel and making sure everybody was keeping the recommended distance of one metre away from each other.
But the departures board was showing no sign of any cancellations.
Klemen Gartner, a 22-year-old seminarian from Slovenia, said that he was trying to get back home, “somewhere I can understand the language”.
He said that when station staff realised he wasn’t Italian, he was told: “You’re foreign? Go, go!” and waved through.
The service for Venice via Florence was only sparsely occupied but running nonetheless, with no checks for passengers on disembarkation at Florence.
Italy’s rail links with neighbouring countries are under more strain, with the Thello company cancelling its night services between Paris and Venice, as well as daytime trains between Milan and Marseille, until early April.
France’s national train company SNCF said on Tuesday it was “waiting for advice” about how to proceed regarding its services to Italy.
Since late February, French staff on cross-border SNCF trains have been getting off before the Italian border and being replaced by Italian colleagues.
Austria’s national OeBB company has implementing similar measures for its staff.
OeBB has already cancelled its night trains to several Italian cities and said that further changes to its daytime schedules might come in the following days.
A spokeswoman for Germany’s Deutsche Bahn said that the only service it had linking it to Italy, between Munich and Venice, has also been suspended.
On Italy’s road borders the situation seemed more relaxed on Tuesday afternoon.
Cars crossed the frontier with neighbouring Slovenia in both directions on Tuesday afternoon, an AFP journalist reported.
Italians in the area around the city of Trieste often make the short journey into Slovenia to do their shopping and buy cheaper fuel.
But late Tuesday, Slovenia’s government announced it would close the border.
Austria said it was putting tough new restrictions on passengers arriving from Italy. On the land border between both countries, Austrian police were reported to be stopping people crossing from Italy to take their temperatures.
The wave of cancelled trips is raising fears for Italy’s tourism sector, which accounts for 13 per cent of the country’s gross domestic product.
While squares in Milan and Rome were emptied of their usual bustle and traffic, some residents were confused as to whether they were even allowed to leave their homes for everyday tasks like shopping.
The confusion forced the government to clarify its decree and warn against panic buying.
Pope Francis also seemed to muddy the waters, holding a mass in which he urged priests to go out and visit the sick – something specifically discouraged by Conte.
Sport schedules have been wrecked across the continent. A day after Italy cancelled all domestic sport, France, Spain, Germany and Portugal announced matches will be played in empty stadia, while some games in the Netherlands were cancelled.