SAN JOSE (KPIX 5) — The U.S. State Department on Wednesday rolled out new travel advisories for Italy, as the country heads into the spring break travel season, amidst sharp rises in coronavirus cases.
Italy saw its number of cases balloon this weekend to more than 400 as of Wednesday morning, prompting the state department to issue a Level 2 advisory, saying Americans should “exercise increased caution” and that “the CDC does not recommend canceling or postponing travel to Italy.”
The new advisory comes days after a Level 3 advisory was issued over the weekend for South Korea, which as 1,261 confirmed cases as of Wednesday evening. Level 3 calls for Americans to avoid non-essential travel to the affected country.
The outbreak in Italy has struck the northern cities hardest, in and around Milan, and Veneto near Venice. Normally bustling cafes and thoroughfares were mostly empty. Pope Francis offered prayers to victims as worshippers listened on in St. Peter’s Square, many wearing masks.
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“So the very first thing we said is, ‘Oops, we’re gonna be in some deep trouble’,” said Rene Schneeberger, vice president of supplier management for Direct Travel, headquartered in Denver, upon hearing the Level 2 advisory for Italy.
Schneeberger says Italy is the top international destination for American travelers. When fielding calls from nervous customers seeking to cancel bookings, Schneeberger says his agents try to listen and understand.
“The first is, we try to identify what is the real question. So is it just a reactive measure to news coverage? In which case, we also find that once we walk them through the process, Walk them through the steps the cruise lines and tour operators are taking to secure and safeguard their health, then off and they return and feel much more secure and say I’m going to continue to travel,” said Schneeberger.
Suppliers have been sympathetic, often re-booking customers with March or April arrival dates without charging fees or penalties, said Schneeberger.
“Suppliers are not out to gouge customers, no. It is a partnership, and customers are not a one-way street. So we do whatever we can to find the right solution for the customer,” said Schneeberger.
A fourth passenger from the Diamond Princess Cruise ship has died–the ship has had 705 cases confirmed cases aboard. Schneeberger says he had just completed a cruise in Miami, and that to keep in mind the vast majority of cruises around the world have no problems.
“It’s a matter of keeping perspective, but either way, we respect individual customer’s decisions, and we certainly will work with them to do what is right for them,” said Schneeberger.
At Mineta San Jose International Airport, travelers had no concerns about domestic travel.
“I did not think twice about getting on a plane because it is what it is, and you’re going to get sick whether or not you go anywhere, or walk outside your door,” said Susie Hernandez, who had just returned from San Diego.
Tawny and Dustin Reyna, honeymooners in San Jose, also did not cancel travel plans. However, Tawny opted to wear a mask because of her pregnancy.
“We’re going to do it regardless. As long as we’re protecting ourselves, and keep our immune system up, we’re fine,” said Tawny Reyna.
At San Jose State University, sophomore Hoon Cho said he would not let Coronavirus fears ruin his spring break plans to Yosemite.
“I feel I shouldn’t let it hinder what I want to do. As long as I’m safe and sanitizing and just being aware of my health, then I think I should be OK,” said Cho.
SJSU is suspending a study abroad program and exchange student program in South Korea, that was set to begin next month.
A study abroad program in Milan is being closely monitored for now.