Italy was one of the hardest-hit countries in Europe at the beginning of the coronavirus epidemic, and made international headlines not just for the high rates of infection but also the strict lockdown that ensued. After months of strict limits, the government began to ease restrictions throughout the summer, possibly making way for the second wave that hit the country—along with the rest of Europe—in November 2020.
While thousands of travelers have already been forced or encouraged to cancel or reschedule their Italy travel plans, others are looking ahead and wondering: When will it be safe to travel to Italy?
When Will It Be Safe to Return to Italy?
As of November 28, 2020, many tourists from outside of the EU are still banned from entering the European Union, including those from the U.S. However, the EU began to slowly open up borders to nationals from certain countries beginning in October, including visitors from Canada, Australia, New Zealand, Japan, and Thailand. However, restrictions are rapidly changing and the most up-to-date measures can be found directly through the Italian Ministry of Health.
With cases rising and the uncertainty of what's to come after the winter holidays, travelers are advised to wait before planning a trip to Italy. Even international tourists who are allowed to enter the country are required to sign a declaration promising to self-quarantine for 14 days after arrival, so it's still not an ideal time for a vacation. The Italian government is preparing to start vaccinating residents by the end of 2020, meaning that travel restrictions may start to ease throughout the spring of 2021. If all goes well, it's possible that tourism will start to bounce back by that summer, but it's still too soon to tell.
Coronavirus in Italy
The first case of COVID-19 in Italy was reported in late January. Soon after, a cluster of cases was reported in the northern Italian region of Lombardy, where Milan is located, and the disease quickly spread, first in the north and then to other regions and neighboring European countries. A strict national lockdown brought the number of cases down to a controllable level by the time summer arrived, and restrictions were slowly lifted but on a region by region basis. Cases started to rise again throughout the fall and by November, a new second wave had hit the country with even more daily cases than in the spring. As of November 27, 2020, Italy had over 1.5 million cases and over 52,000 deaths, one of the highest number of cases and highest death rates in the world.
The relatively high death toll is largely due to Italy's large population of senior citizens. More than 20 percent of Italians are age 65 years and over, and that age group is the most vulnerable to serious illness and death from coronavirus. At first, the government of Italy attempted to contain the virus in a handful of northern regions but when those efforts failed, the entire country was ordered into lockdown in a drastic effort to slow or halt its spread.
The nationwide lockdown was announced on March 9, 2020, and was extended until May 3, essentially requiring that Italians stay home at all times. Because the virus can spread so rapidly, even among those who show no symptoms (and therefore don't suspect that they are coronavirus-positive), strict rules were in place to limit person-to-person contact and possible transmission. As of May 4, however, those restrictions were slowly loosened and by the time summer arrived, Italians were allowed to move around and restaurants, bars, and shops were reopened.
After the emergence of the second spike, the Italian government re-instated new lockdown measures on November 4, 2020. The new measures are in effect until at least the end of January 2021, although they aren't quite as extreme as the original lockdown. There is a nation-wide curfew at 10 p.m. and all bars and restaurants have to close by 6 p.m. Specific regions are color-coded as red, orange, or yellow, depending on their number of cases. Red-coded regions have the most restrictive measures and are not allowed to travel outside of their region.
Travel Restrictions and Regulations in Italy
On March 16, the EU (which includes Italy) proposed a ban on all non-essential travel to its member countries for 30 days, and that was later extended to May 15. As of November 27, 2020, the EU has slowly lifted travel restrictions on a country-by-country basis, although tourists from the U.S. are still not permitted to enter. Under the ban, only EU residents, residents' family members, or essential workers such as healthcare workers, are allowed to enter these countries.
For those who are permitted to enter, there are different entry requirements depending on the country you arrive from, ranging from a written declaration to self-quarantine to a confirmed negative COVID test taken just before your flight. Make sure you know what is required of you, or you could be denied entry into Italy.
U.S. Government Restrictions
On March 11, 2020, the U.S. president announced a ban on travelers entering from Italy and most other European countries with a yet-to-be-determined expiration. Although the ban does not include U.S. citizen/resident travelers returning home, those doing so will have to arrive through one of 13 designated airports for screening and may also be subject to a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The State Department has Italy under a Level 3 "Reconsider Travel" Advisory, for those who are permitted to enter the country.