Answers to the most important questions for anyone traveling or planning to travel in Tuscany – our most updated version is here.
Coronavirus. Now known as the COVID-19. It’s been scaring the whole planet since January, and rightly so, because it is more easily contagious than the more common influenza and rhino viruses we are used to every winter.
Up until last Friday, February 21, there were no cases in Italy that were not tied to someone being in China and then, this past Friday, we heard on the news that it had arrived to Northern Italy, in the regions of Lombardy and Veneto, where 14 people tested positive. By the time Monday rolled around, we had over 200 cases. People are worried and small towns in the areas in those regions where the cases popped up were immediately put into quarantine.
A bit of panic had set in by then, however, as people started thinking what if it happens here in Florence? Thus, if you’ve seen photos of empty supermarket shelves in the media, keep in mind those were from Monday. And likely not all from Florence. I heard from friends that some supermarkets in Florence and other smaller towns did have a run on Monday. Every day since then, our local market has been stocked (I’ve personally stopped in or someone in the family has, for normal grocery shopping) and while some shelves get empty faster, I have not witnessed scenes like those.
If you have a trip planned in the near future, I know you’re asking: should I travel to Italy and Tuscany at the moment? I am setting up this page to answer some of the most common questions I have seen up to now.
Last update: March 4, 2020
Is it is a risk to visit Tuscany at the moment?
Tuscany is not currently classified as an area at risk.
Tuscany and Italy have one of the most efficient healthcare systems in the world.
The exceptional controls and measures Italy adapted at the start of the outbreak in China made it possible to trace cases as they were discovered extremely quickly. Case in point, seeing the numbers rise every single day from Friday, February 21 to the following Monday, and every day since. Many people that came in contact with sick people were tested even without showing any traces of illness in those first few days, and that’s the reason why the numbers jumped as “positives” even if many of those did not have symptoms. Every one was promptly treated and put into quarantine if needed to stop the spread of the disease.
The spread that has occurred over the last week is a sign of the long incubation process (14 days) of the illness, where people moved and came into contact with more people every day without realizing they were infected, before any symptoms started showing up.
What is the current situation in Tuscany?
There are no contagious hot spots in Tuscany.
There are a few number of cases in Florence and a few spots in Tuscany, all in quarantine. All of them are in good health, stable condition and isolated according to the procedure set up to contain the spread of the corona virus. All of them were linked, directly or indirectly, to the high-risk zones in Northern Italy and China.
How is the region responding to the virus?
The region is alert and constantly in touch with local and health autorities to monitor the current cases and their care.
Regional trains and public transport are being disinfected daily.
Public spaces in airports are being sanitized on a regular basis, hand disinfectant dispensers across terminals are available to help keep hands clean.
Is public transport running as normal?
Yes, all public transport is currently running normally. Aside from some national airlines limiting or canceling flights into Italy, within Italy all airlines, trains and buses are running as usual.
Are museums and attractions open? Are restaurants open?
All attractions and restaurants are OPEN as usual. Nothing has closed, because we have not experienced any large amount of cases that have warranted closing any public spaces to limit contact between people.
Have any hotels in Florence, Siena, etc stopped taking bookings?
No! Actually, many are suffering from sudden cancellations of bookings for this month and it is likely they will be even more welcome of any visitors that do not cancel and maintain they trip to Tuscany.
Can I also visit northern Italy during my trip?
As long as you stay away from the “red areas” or the quarantined towns that are in Lombardy and Veneto, then you are free to move around northern Italy, including Milan, Verona and Venice.
You might have read that Venice decided to cancel the last Carnival celebrations, and they did. It was a local decision to limit the amount of people in the very small spaces that are available in Venice as a precaution, not because it wasn’t safe to be in Venice.
To read up on the towns affected by the virus, you need to check the regions websites:
Should I cancel my trip?
Since Tuscany is not classed as a risk area at the moment, there is no reason to cancel your trip to Tuscany.
In the case that a cancellation becomes necessary, the general cancellation policy of the companies you booked with will apply.
For more information about those policies, you should contact directly those companies where you have bookings in place, be it a hotel other accommodation like a farmhouse or a tour company for tours. If you have bought travel insurance to cover your trip or airfare, contact them too and find out by when you need to request cancellations or changed.
If you decide to cancel your trip to Tuscany and Italy, you might also consider whether you can just change the dates for your travel. It could be a way to avoid losing money on your travel plans.
If you’ve decided to go ahead and travel during this time, what can you do while traveling to have a safe trip?
Protecting yourself means you should follow some simple but effective rules:
- Wash your hands frequently, especially after touching surfaces that countless other people have touched (think hand bars on buses and airports)
- Do not touch your mouth, eyes or nose with your hands.
- Cover your mouth and nose if you sneeze or cough.
- If you know someone suffering from acute respiratory infections at the moment, try to avoid immediate contact
- Use a mask only if you think you might be ill to avoid spreading germs or if you assist anyone that is clearly ill.
- Do not take antiviral or antibiotic medicines unless they have been prescribed by a doctor.
- Clean surfaces around you with chlorine- or alcohol-based disinfectants.
Keep in mind that:
- MADE IN CHINA products and packages from China are not dangerous.
- Pets do not spread the new coronavirus.
To have current numbers and recommendations on how to protect yourself in general and while traveling, check out the World Health Organization‘s page dedicated to the coronavirus: https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019 as well as the CDC page: https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
Once you’re in Tuscany, what should you do in case of an emergency?
At the moment, the Italian Ministry of Health has set up an emergency hotline 24/7 which you can call for more information: all you need to do is dial 1500.
The region of Tuscany has also set up a free number to answer questions regarding local cases but it isn’t run all day and night. The number is 800.55 6060, punch option 1. Available Monday through Friday, 9am-6pm.
If you believe you come in contact with someone who has a confirmed infection of Covid-19 or with someone who has recently been in China or in the quarantined areas in Northen Italy, you can get in touch with local health agencies:
- ASL central Tuscany (Florence, Prato, Pistoia, Empoli): 055.5454777 firstname.lastname@example.org
- ASL north-west Tuscany (Pisa, Livorno, Lucca, Massa Carrara, Viareggio): 050.954444
- ASL south-east Tuscany (Arezzo, Grosseto, Siena): 800.579579
One of the most important updates: on March 3, the president of Tuscany, Enrico Rossi, made it clear in an ordinance that anyone who finds themselves in Tuscany – for study, work or tourism – and were to start feeling sick and confirmed to have Covid-19 is guaranteed EQUAL and FREE treatment, just like local residents.
If there should be closures in the next few weeks, where can we get that information first?
While this page on the Region of Tuscany’s website is set up with information on the Corona virus, it is only in Italian and doesn’t have updates of this nature. I have yet to find another source with up to date information, aside from local newspapers offering news on a day to day basis.
So I will come back and update this post as I see important news to share, that at the moment might only come out in Italian but that I know would be relevant to our readers. I have also used this other page as a guide in formatting and answering questions that are important for our readers: https://www.visittuscany.com/en/coronavirus/
My personal notes
On a more personal note, we appreciate that people are taking more precautions to not sneeze or cough near other people, to disinfect their hands more often. Right now it also means lots of people are avoiding crowded places, and we can appreciate that it makes common sense.
The government cancelled the Free Sunday initiative at State museums in all of Italy on Sunday, March 1st. It is to discourage local residents from going to museums and overcrowding the museums. Yet the museums were open! Of course, it meant visitors had to pay for their visit, but museums were also less crowded.
School trips across the country and many large events where many people would have gathered have been cancelled or postponed, with new dates for June or summer. If you also try to avoid closed, indoor places that get too crowded, I believe it will be practical…. and aside from the Uffizi and Accademia museums, which are the most crowded here in Florence, I don’t think you will have a problem in finding museums open and with smaller crowds than normal.
Italy is actually doing a huge amount of testing on possibly positive patients, even those that are asymptomatic. This is on people who have felt some fever and pains, which can be similar to the flu. It is still flu season, after all. But even on those with no symptoms, close to those that are sick…. this has actually increased the number of cases exponentially in comparison to other countries who are NOT doing this type of expanded testing. For example, in the US, it seems that there are only 50 cases but testing kits have revealed themselves to be defective and currently testing takes many days. I highly doubt that the numbers currently being reported in many other countries are actually the correct ones, but in the meantime, it makes Italy seem like a hot spot.
The biggest way your vacation will be impacted, I believe, is in that museums and restaurants will be less crowded. If they were to remain so for a long period, some might choose to close temporarily until the emergency has passed. For now, I’ve only known of Chinese restaurants closing their doors because Italians were so afraid to go eat there, the restaurants were empty! It made no business sense to stay open. I’ve read this has happened elsewhere, not just in Italy. Our human biases, it seems, come out in the worst situations. But having faith in our human kind means we also have to focus on the positives, including all those doctors and nurses working round the clock and putting themselves at risk to treat the sick.
I hope I have provided reassurance to keep your plans to come to Florence and Tuscany unchanged.
If you have any questions, feel free to post below.
About Lourdes Flores
An American living in Florence for over 10 years, Lourdes continues to explore and discover new places in Tuscany with the eyes of a tourist but with the experience of living in Italy. She shares her experiences on this blog and website, particularly offering lots of travel planning help on the Forum!