Europe

'Worse than 9/11 and Chernobyl put together': Rome businesses lament downturn amid coronavirus panic

A man wearing a protective mask passes by the Coliseum in Rome. Source: AFP

Workers in Italy's capital say fears over the coronavirus have left a lasting impact on their business and a gaping hole in the daily life of Rome.

Hermione Kitson reports from Rome. 

As Italy continues to wrestle with the spread of the deadly coronavirus, those forced to remain segregated within its borders are pondering their future and that of the local economy.

From Tuesday, the movements of Italy's population of 60 million are severely limited.

Travel is only allowed for "urgent, verifiable work situations and emergencies or health reasons."

A passenger wearing a face mask waits at Termini Central Station in Rome, Italy.
A passenger wearing a face mask waits at Termini Central Station in Rome, Italy.
Getty

Authorities have also banned all public gatherings and suspended major sports events including the country's peak football league Serie A.

High-level professional training for top national sports events and competitions organised by international bodies, such as the Olympic Games, may go ahead without spectators. All athletes, coaches and managers will undergo health checks.

Businesses devastated

The streets of Rome, normally bustling with locals and a hub for a once-thriving tourist industry, have since turned eerily quiet as the masses take steps to reduce the risk of contracting Covid-19.

To encourage people to stay in, bars and restaurants are only allowed to open between 6am and 6pm, and only if it is possible to keep a distance of at least a metre between customers.

All museums and cultural venues are closed, as well as nightclubs, cinemas, theatres and casinos, which have been shut since the weekend.

Shoppers wearing face masks peruse fruit and vegetables at Rome's Trionfale Market.
Shoppers wearing face masks peruse fruit and vegetables at Rome's Trionfale Market.
AFP

While supermarkets will remain open, large shopping centres and department stores must close on public holidays and the day before public holidays.

The newly-announced lockdown has fuelled widespread fears about the coronavirus' impact on the economy, tourism and the health system.

Rome's famous Piazza del Popolo, the so-called "People's Square" is also deserted, in scenes that are repeated throughout Italy's historic centre with landmark sites no longer attracting crowds from around the world.

The flow-on effect has been immediate.

Raffaello Sasson says businesses in Rome have been doing it tough as customers remain cautious of Covid-19.
Raffaello Sasson says businesses in Rome have been doing it tough as customers remain cautious of Covid-19.
SBS News

Raffaello Sasson's family has owned a clothing shop in Rome since 1970 but he says conditions have never been so dire.

"This is right now much worse than 11th of September and Chernobyl put together. This is the worst we have seen, right now."

Da Pietro, a culinary institution in Italy's capital, is also doing it tough.

The restaurant normally welcomes eager diners who have made bookings months in advance, but the venue's owner Francesco Massotte says that is no longer the case.

"The last two weeks have been tragic, in the historic centre here, not even a single tourist. We have been here for 15 years and it's never happened."

'Be careful, stay home'

As the virus continues to spread, residents are doing what they can to protect themselves. 

'You need to apply the things that they say - so, be careful, stay home, go out only with a mask," one resident told SBS News.

Hospitality workers wear protective masks while serving customers who have ventured out in Rome.
Hospitality workers wear protective masks while serving customers who have ventured out in Rome.
SBS News

Outside the famed Trevi Fountain, tourists were given little doubt about the severity of the health warnings.

"I was eating lunch today and in the restaurant, there was a sign saying 'stay away from people, sit a metre away from other people'," a man told SBS News.

Since COVID-19 first emerged in China late last year, Italy has become Europe's hardest-hit country.

Major tourist attractions across Rome have proven unusually quiet since tough coronavirus control measures were put in place.
Major tourist attractions across Rome have proven unusually quiet since tough coronavirus control measures were put in place.
NurPhoto

An AFP count showed the country had recorded more than half of the 862 deaths reported outside China as of Monday night.

But despite the general sense of pessimism across Italy, not all hope has been lost just yet.

'Everyone in the world loves this country, I think that when it's going to be solved, everyone will give us a hand by coming to Rome again, to Italy,' Mr Sasson said.

With AFP.

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