Will Italy be added to the quarantine checklist this week?
IIn Italy, the seven-day case rate has doubled in the last month, from 10.8 per 100,000 population (August 20-26) to 19.6 (September 22-28), and many fear that it will UK government quarantine is reviewing its controversial travel policy on Thursday.
Such a move would leave the British with even fewer options for a last-minute vacation and give those already in the country less than 36 hours to return to British soil or face a two-week quarantine. What are the chances that this will happen?
The quarantine threshold
A few weeks ago, Transportation Secretary Grant Shapps announced that the government had a quarantine threshold. Should another country’s 7-day case rate exceed 20 per 100,000, it would consider imposing travel restrictions. Little leeway was given as Switzerland, Croatia, Austria, Belgium and the Netherlands were put on the quarantine step just days after breaking this seemingly arbitrary barrier.
However, since the heady summer days, the case rate in the UK has increased. It’s now at 60.7, three times the old threshold. Hence, logic would suggest that an extra level of leniency is in order. If the purpose of quarantine is to prevent contagion through high risk areas, then any country with a lower infection rate than the UK should be free of restrictions. Early evidence suggests this may not be the case. Last week, Slovakia was struck off the list of travel corridors even though the case rate was just over 20 per 100,000 (since then it has increased to 47.5 – more on that in a minute).
If the 20 threshold remains, Italy (currently at 19.6) is on the verge of quarantine. Fall rate isn’t the only factor in the game, however.
Rise or fall?
When considering travel restrictions, the Ministry of Health states that it considers a number of criteria. This includes “the prevalence of the coronavirus in a country / area” (ie the case rate), but also “the course of the disease in that country”. That factor could be Italy’s grace to save. Yes, cases in the country have increased, but relatively slowly – and they seem to be settling down now.
Here are the numbers of the new daily cases over the past 14 days: 1,450, 1,585, 1,906, 1,638, 1,587, 1,349, 1,392, 1,640, 1,786, 1,912, 1,869, 1,766, 1,493, 1,648. That is certainly not a path that suggests Italy is struggling to deal with the virus.
Belgium, Austria and the Netherlands were removed from the list of travel corridors shortly after crossing the 20 threshold, but their trajectories were far steeper. Today the case rate in Belgium is 104, Austria 54 and the Netherlands 88. Slovakia looked tough last week, but now the rate is 47.5, the decision is a little more understandable (but not entirely justified – ours is still significantly higher). On this point, Italy – and indeed Greece and Sweden – could be spared this week.
Other criteria used by the Ministry of Health include “test rates, positivity and strategy”. This is not a problem for Italy, which has one of the highest test rates in Europe (only behind the UK, Spain, Russia and Germany).
Then there are “imported infections to the UK”. I (and other journalists) have asked the government to provide data on how many infections have come from abroad and from what destinations, but this is information it either doesn’t have or doesn’t want to share.
Finally, there is “passenger traffic from this country to Great Britain”. I’m not convinced that makes much of a difference as Slovakia, barely the hotspot for autumn break, was pushed into the background last week. While important, it shouldn’t be a problem for Italy: the number of Britons currently visiting the country is likely to be tiny compared to a normal September.
On September 7th, months after being asked to do so, the government finally took a more regional quarantine approach, meaning islands (like the covid-free Azores) can be viewed separately from the rest of a country (in this case Portugal). . This means that even if Italy were put on the quarantine list, its islands could remain exempt. Conversely, mainland Italy could remain on the green list, but one or more of its islands could be dropped (as happened with Greece).
Italy has only two islands with direct flights to the UK: Sicily and Sardinia. How are you? Sicily still seems like a solid bet, with a 7-day fall rate of 16 per 100,000, but Sardinia hit 30. If you are risking a last minute vacation in Italy, Sardinia may not be the most sensible choice.
When it comes to quarantine – or restrictions on our freedom – no one can predict with any certainty what this flawed, ass-covering government will do. However, the evidence suggests Italy (with the possible exception of Sardinia) will be spared for at least another week. However, you book at your own risk. So look for airlines and hotels that offer free cancellation or rebooking and check your travel insurance carefully. And remember that the quarantine list is changed every Thursday and the changes will take effect from 4 a.m. the following Saturday. Therefore, choose your flight times carefully.