MILAN (AP) — A new U.S. government advisory on Sunday urged Americans not to travel to two Italian regions hardest hit by a new virus, raising the level of warning for the Lombard and Veneto regions to the highest level.
The advisory cited quarantines set up in 10 Lombard towns and one in Veneto, with a combined population of 50,000 people, as well as the ‘’the level of community transmission of the virus.”
It follows an earlier warning late Friday to avoid non-essential travel to all of Italy, where more than 1,100 cases were confirmed through Saturday along with 29 deaths.
Tourism officials have cited the previous warning covering all of Italy as potentially calamitous to the industry, which represents 13% of gross domestic product in a country famed for its world-class museums, archaeological sites, art cities and natural beauty.
More than 5.6 million Americans visit Italy every year, representing 9% of foreign tourists and the second-largest national group behind Germans, according to the most recent statistics.
Lombardy, which includes Italy’s financial capital Milan, accounts for just over half of the cases while Veneto and Emilia-Romagna have 18% and 20%, respectively. All three regions have closed schools for the time being. In Veneto and Lombardy, closures also have hit museums, theaters, cinemas and most public offices, emptying urban centers like Milan, where many companies permitted office workers to telecommute.
Earlier Sunday, the French community church in Rome, St. Louis of the French, closed its doors to the public on after a priest was infected with a new virus.
The church in the historic center of Rome is famous for three paintings by the Baroque master Caravaggio, making it a destination for tourists and the faithful alike. A sign on the door Sunday noted in French that the church had been closed as a precaution by the French Embassy for both Masses and touristic visits until further notice.
The Religious Information Service news agency reported that the church was closed after a 43-year-old priest who had returned to Paris was hospitalized after being infected by coronavirus. The service carried a statement by the archbishop of Paris, Michel Aupetit, who said the priest, who had been living in Rome, returned to Paris by car in mid-February, and tested positive for the virus on Friday. The priest was in good condition, Aupetit said.
It was the first church in Rome closed by the virus. Churches in much of Veneto and Lombardy have closed their doors under widespread measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus. Televised Masses were available for the faithful.
(This story was originally published on March 1, 2020)