I Had A 24 Hr Layover In Italy During The Coronavirus Outbreak. Here’s What That was Like.
As I write this post, I am back in Singapore. A swab test (tested negative, phew...) and a mandatory 14 day SHN (Stay Home Notice) later, I am now stuck at home again; working from home to be precise. Now, we are 1 month into our country's approximately 2 month "Circuit Breaker", which is basically a semi "lock-down" of some sorts.
How fast things have changed.
Before I left for Egypt (via Rome) in early March 2020, it was just China, Iran, South Korea, and parts of Northern Italy that had a travel advisory notice discouraging travel. Fast-forward a couple of weeks, (now months) and the entire world now seems to be in lock-down.
Anyway, in accordance to government travel advisory at that point in time, which hadn't discouraged travel to Egypt or Rome (my layover destination), as it the situation was nothing as bad as things are today, I proceeded with my trip.
En-route to Egypt, I thought I’d stop over in Rome as opposed to Dubai since I wasn’t keen on flying via the Middle East after Ukraine Airlines got shot down over Iranian airspace. The last time I was in Rome, they were still using the “Lira” instead of the “Euro”, so I was really interested to see what Rome was like in 2020, especially in these times with the shadow of the Corona-virus looming over Italy.
If you’re reading this, you’ve probably been to Rome; no surprise there. Rome is arguably the 3rd most touristy city after London and Paris. So read on and see if it’s the Rome you recognize.
[Are We Welcome?]
Before my trip, I had read reports of the discrimination against “Asians” because of the virus, a “Chinese Virus” according to Donald Trump. One guy I read, got spat at in Italy, for being Asian.
When I touched down at Rome’s Fiumicino Airport, I mentally prepared myself to be given dirty looks, or even shouted at. But no, nothing of that sort happened.
Taxi drivers still bugged me, asking if I needed a trip into the main city, and locals didn’t brush me off when I asked for directions or to help me take a picture. Life seemed normal. There was this once when my travel buddy for the trip; Luke, spoke to me in mandarin at a cafe and got a stare from a “fearful” restaurant patron. But otherwise, all was good.
I don’t know how much Rooms are supposed to cost when you stay a mere 5 mins walk from the heart of the Vatican City, but I paid S$70 for a room at Adriatic hotel, a 2 star hotel in a great location. Split between my travel buddy Luke and I, it was just S$35 for a night, not bad.
Prices seem to be a lot lower, and hotels in general had likely between 10-20% occupancy. At the hotel we stayed at, we saw just one tourist. But then again, we spent most of our time outside.
[Discounts On Dining]
Restaurants were empty, even during what should have been a peak “lunch hour”. I shudder to think of how bad business probably is during "non lunch hours".
Waiters were standing at the side, beckoning us toward their restaurant, trying to entice us with “promotions”. We chose one that dangled a 20% discount in front of us, and yes, they did make good that discount.
What was truly surprising were the queues at attractions, they were non existent! Before the trip, I was contemplating if I should pay more for a “Skip The Line” pass. I’m glad I didn’t, and I would have kicked myself if I did.
Our waiting time per attraction was close to zero. I hear that “Pre-Corona days”, it used to be as long as 2-3 hours per attraction. In normal circumstances, it would be impossible to visit the attractions in both Rome AND the Vatican in one day. But this time, we breezed through easily in less than 10 hrs.
Here are some comparisons. What it usually is, and how they where when we were there.
1.1 (The Trevi Fountain during "Pre-Corona" days)
1.2 (The Trevi Fountain "Post-Corona" while I was there)
Okay, so it wasn't as empty as my picture seems (we all try to take at an angle without people in it), but I was easily able to find spots with no tourists "photo-bombing" me.
No, they didn't cordon off the area for me just so I could take a picture alone with the fountain.
2.1 (Outside the Colosseum during "Pre-Corona" days)
2.2 (Outside the Colosseum while I was there)
I couldn't find a similar google image of the exact location I was at when I took this picture. But if you've been to the Colosseum before, you'll know my waiting time of 5 mins is ridiculously fast.
3.1 (Inside the Colosseum during "Pre-Corona" days)
3.2 (Inside the Colosseum while I was there)
4.1 (The Spanish Steps "Pre-Corona" days)
4.2 (The Spanish Steps while I was there)
This was taken at around 6:45pm in the evening. From what I hear, it would be packed no different from the afternoon even at this time.
5.1 (The Vatican St Peters Basilica during "Pre-Corona" days)
5.2 (The Vatican St Peters Basilica while I was there)
[Dark Skies Ahead]
Italy’s economy has certainly been hit; really hard.
Tourism alone makes up 13% of Italy’s GDP. Just think of the number of cities that that depend almost solely on tourism. Milan, Rome, Florence, Naples, Venice … and the list goes on. Today. Italy is undergoing a complete lock-down.
With no airlines and tourists coming in, this means huge number of jobs will be cut in the hotel/ F&B/ airline /travel operator business. Italy is also an export driven country. In a lock-down, it’s unlikely factories and business will require that many staff. Even for those with jobs, they won’t be making much. Just ask the taxi drivers which tourists they’re ferrying about now? Without money, there won’t be spending, which in turn affects retail.
Based on my observations from my standpoint as a tourists, things aren't looking good for the locals, and it's going to take a miracle for Italy to recover from this economically.
If the Corona-virus situation doesn’t clear up, it doesn’t look like we’ll be traveling anywhere else this year.
Still, if you’ve dreams of seeing more of the world like I do, it’s not yet time to shelve those dreams.
China apparently seems to have the Corona-virus under control (which may or may not be fake news), but the fact that they are slowly returning to daily life does give hope that there is a way out for all the countries currently under lock-down or that have closed their borders.
From a purely “travel perspective”, (since this a Travel Blog) pollution and “over tourism” issues that have plagued that have plagued the “typical tourist destinations” will have cleared up by the time this is all over. And when the dark ages of the Corona-virus are finally over, we can all look forward to a renewed form of travel; one where people have learnt to be more socially responsible, where key attractions are free from litter, and when travel is a "thing" again, I think myself, and everyone else will appreciate the beauty of the world a lot more.