Since the beginning of the Coronavirus emergency, more than 30 thousand compatriots have already returned to Italy from more than 30 different countries. The repatriation operations continue, with flights that will bring many compatriots back to Italy from Asia, Latin America and the United States. The Vice Foreign Minister, Emanuela Del Re, in an interview with Fanpage.it, gives an overview of work carried out by the Ministry of Foreign Affairs to deal with the epidemic. The Vice Minister provides useful instructions for Italians willing to return to Italy and dwells on the activities of collaborators all over the world concerning the current emergency. Del Re also expresses concern about the impact of the Coronavirus in "contexts of conflict such as Syria, Yemen and Libya". Another matter is related to the spread of the virus in the African continent. "We already know that most of the affected countries do not have adequate health facilities and robust national planning systems to address this challenge.
How many Italians, to date, are still stuck abroad because of the Coronavirus?
It is not easy to make a precise estimate of the Italians stuck abroad. Our consular representatives had already started a 'census' of Italians in their respective countries of accreditation a few weeks ago. However, the lists are updated continuously and change from hour to hour. At the beginning of the pandemic, there were tens of thousands of people temporarily abroad for study, work, and tourism and not registered with AIRE. More than 30 thousand compatriots have already returned from over 30 countries with flights, ships and other means of transport provided by private companies thanks to the diplomatic action of the Ministry of Foreign Affairs and our Embassies. It is not possible to know who is temporarily abroad and where, if not reported. Therefore, the Crisis Unit works according to the reports that arrive. The Operations Room of the Crisis Unit has been reinforced, and it is operational 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. I would like to add, however, that in this moment of crisis that Italians abroad who wish to return in some cases live with extreme apprehension. We should not forget that every single case is important and that they are people, not numbers.
Are there any new repatriations planned? How many Italians are expected to return in the next days/weeks?
Of course, we are planning. The repatriation operations are still ongoing, and they will not stop. Our network receives the requests coming from the various countries, and the Ministry of Foreign Affairs consults the airlines to organize flights that leave empty and bring the compatriots back to Italy. We planned flights to repatriate Italians from South-East Asia, Latin America and the United States. Daily flights continue to land from the main European capitals which, in addition to repatriating our compatriots who were in London, Paris, Frankfurt, Munich, Brussels, act as hubs and airports for those coming from other continents from which it is possible to return, if there are the required conditions, with combinations of flights operated by foreign companies.
What are procedures to follow for the Italians returning from abroad?
First, I would like to clarify those Italian citizens, not resident abroad, and foreign citizens residing in Italy who have an 'absolute urgency' may return from abroad. The return of Italian citizens or foreign citizens resident in Italy and temporarily abroad (for tourism, business, study or other) is therefore allowed. It is also allowed the return of Italian citizens forced to leave the foreign country where they were working or studying (for example, because they have been dismissed, they have lost their home, their course of study has been definitively interrupted). Once they entered the national territory, they must reach their home in the shortest possible time. According to the latest decree of the Ministries of Infrastructure and Health, they can only return by private means and not by public transport. In case of discomfort, it is possible to rent a car. A cohabitant can pick up those returning from abroad. We reiterate that anyone who enters Italy must be in quarantine. Once back in Italy, they have to inform the competent Local Health Authority, and they can spend the isolation period in a place other than their own home. Those who arrive in Italy and do not have a place where spending the quarantine or cannot reach it must spend the isolation period in a place decided by the Civil Protection. The expenses will be paid by the person concerned.
You are in charge of international cooperation: what is the situation of the Italian collaborators in the world? Are there still many of them abroad?
According to the estimates of the Networks of Civil Society Organizations (CSOs), there are about 1,500 active collaborators in various parts of the world. However, I must say that talking about numbers in this context is not always easy. Moreover, not all co-operators are abroad at the same time. There is a rotation: some have returned, many have chosen to remain, others have remained in the countries of intervention because of flight restrictions. Where necessary, the MAECI will provide assistance to humanitarian and cooperation workers as well as to all other compatriots. In this regard, I would like to point out that an intense work of sensitization has started both with countries that have already closed their borders and air spaces and with the Italian airlines. We are working to organize special flights on a commercial basis for the return of our compatriots.
Are there any cooperative activities related to the Coronavirus emergency?
The United Nations and the International Red Cross and Red Crescent movement have mobilized to implement actions to prevent contagion, strengthen health services in fragile countries, and to continue and strengthen humanitarian assistance operations already planned. I am particularly concerned about the impact that Coronavirus may have in contexts of conflict. I am thinking of Syria, Yemen, or Libya, where the humanitarian truce is struggling to establish, and health facilities have been severely compromised by years of conflict. In some countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, like in Sahel, epidemics and chronic malnutrition already persist and the precarious security conditions put the health response capacity of many countries to the test. More generally, I am worried about all the humanitarian crises that have produced vast flows of refugees, from Venezuela to Syria and the Rohingya people, still in refugee camps in Bangladesh. In these days the Italian cooperation is developing a package of humanitarian intervention measures in response to the appeals of the United Nations and the Red Cross. They are also working in support of the action of the CSOs by adapting ongoing projects to the new Coronavirus emergency, converting projects that cannot be implemented in the current circumstances and identifying some targeted emergency measures to strengthen prevention and communication campaigns in the hygiene sector. As far as the operation of the projects is concerned, everything that can reasonably and safely continue will be continued. The Italian cooperation has already been carrying out interventions that are also useful for the management of this pandemic. It should not be forgotten that in Africa epidemics far more lethal than the Coronavirus are very common: from malaria to yellow fever and the Ebola outbreaks in Congo and Cameroon. In this specific case, when we talk about ad hoc interventions for the Coronavirus, we are also referring to the reprogramming of existing funds, which in this case are geared towards health emergencies.
One of the fears, also of WHO, is that of an increasingly widespread contagion in Africa. What is the situation on the continent? Are there the means to deal with a possible epidemic?
The latest data from the World Health Organization's regional office for Africa show that the Coronavirus epidemic is also beginning to spread worryingly in Africa. To date, more than 4,500 cases have been confirmed in 46 countries on the continent, the most affected being South Africa, Egypt, Algeria, Morocco, Tunisia and several West African countries, Burkina Faso, Ivory Coast, Ghana and Senegal. The total number of people killed by the virus is 131, representing a mortality rate of 2.8% of the total confirmed cases. The quantification of the means needed to cope with a possible epidemic will depend on the evolution of the contagion in the coming days. However, we already know that most of the affected countries do not have adequate health facilities and robust national planning systems to meet this challenge.
What are the countries better supporting Italy in terms of health and device delivery, such as masks?
Let me say that this is not a race to give more, and we are not creating a ranking of the aid we receive from each country. What we are experiencing is a global pandemic, a problem for everyone. Italy, also thanks to its virtuous foreign policy, based on dialogue and inclusiveness, has received extraordinary demonstrations of solidarity from Europe and from all over the world. Such demonstrations reciprocate the friendship repeatedly shown on many other occasions. This global solidarity should involve everyone, both multilaterally and bilaterally, and will continue in the future. The world is interconnected and interdependent, and never have we seen such proof. Only together and without cultivating new divisions will the world overcome this crisis and its consequences. We ourselves will still be called upon to help, for the good of all, and we will not back down.