Travel with Italy in the Age of Covid
Travel Info for 2022
Jan 24, 2022
The Omicron Variant
What We Are Seeing in Italy
The Omicron wave started in Italy in early December, 2021, and peaked on January 6th, 2022. Since the peak, testing has been going exponentially higher, but the number of positives have been coming down at a consistent rate.
The Variation Rate
The chart here shows that the variation rate has gone below zero in Italy, meaning that the virus spread is getting much lower, signaling that they are near the end of the Omicron wave. In fact, this is the first time it has gone below zero since June 2021.
In many countries we talk about positivity rates, case rates, etc. But since the beginning of the pandemic, much of Europe has relied on the "variation" rate to predict the trajectory of the various waves, and this has been by far the single most accurate predictor in all four waves of the pandemic to date. In order to calculate this, it is necessary to have excellent tracking of new cases and recoveries. Italy has done an excellent job in assuring that there has always been a difference between presumptive cases and confirmed cases. Furthermore, unlike in the US, if you test positive one day, and test positive again a few days later, they don't count the second test as a new "case." With respect to recoveries, they track this by requiring anyone that has tested positive have a series of two tests with negative results, at least 24 hours apart. Once that happens, the person is considered "recovered" and no longer a "case."
This allows them to very accurately see if the virus is in a pattern of spreading more, or if it is going away, and to what degree. Simply put, if there are 200 new case in a day and 100 recoveries, the "Variation" is +100, meaning 100 more people tested positive for the first time than were marked as recovered. The higher this number is, the more the virus is spreading. The lower it is, the less it is spreading.
The WHO and Italian Health Authorities Are Predicting an End of the Pandemic by Early Spring
More and more experts that have been tracking the pandemic have come to the conclusion that what we have been seeing in the Omicron wave signals that as this wave goes away, we are looking at the end of the pandemic. Europe has an extremely high vaccination rate, and extremely high recovery numbers between the four waves. Add that to the fact that each wave has been weaker than previous in terms of severity of illness, they are signaling that Covid has become endemic, and moving into what we normally consider seasonal colds and flus.
Additionally, the Italian government is already talking about dates when they plan on removing all restrictions. While there are no lockdowns anymore, there is still indoor masking, and some capacity limits for indoor places. These are things that had no effect on us in our 2021 season, but the fact that they re already talking about removing virtually all restrictions is a very positive sign.
Following The ScienceThe statistics behind the science are very revealing now that we are two years into Covid. Italy keeps meticulous data every day on just about anything that can be measured. In previous waves of Covid, the hospitalization numbers started to show their rise and fall average twelve days after case numbers were reported. On November 13, 2020, Italy had its highest peak in positive reported cases, then started to go down very quickly. The peak in hospitalizations was on November 25th, and they then went down at the same rate as cases.
Some Omicron Statistics for Italy
- The hospitalization rate at the peak of the Omicron wave (Jan 6) was 75% lower than at the peak of the 2021 winter wave, and two weeks after the peak, they remained 75% lower than 2 weeks after the peak of the winter 2021 wave.
- The death rate at the peak of the Omicron wave (Jan 6) was 90% lower than at the peak of the 2021 winter wave, and two weeks after the peak, they remained 90% lower than 2 weeks after the peak of the winter 2021 wave.
- 80% of those hospitalized throughout the Omicron wave were unvaccinated.
- As of today, Italy's Vaccination rate is 91.72%.
- As of today, Italy's Booster rate is 77.02%.
Keeping It In Context
We have all experienced a couple of terrible years, and just the word "covid" makes us think of all we have suffered in previous waves. As we hear about new cases, it is difficult to change how we think of those numbers, but it may help to have some context. For the most part, this new variant is more similar to a common cold or light flu, rather than the devastating virus we have come to know. If we can think of the Omicron variant in that context, the numbers may not seem so scary, because few of us ever considered how many "cases" of cold and flu we have each year.
In 2018, there were 41 Million KNOWN cases of influenza in The United States. Over 700,000 of them were hospitalized, and up to 95,000 of them died. We used to take those numbers for granted to the point we didn't even report on them in the news. The numbers of cases for the common cold are so much higher that we cannot even count them. Naturally what we saw in 2020 and 2021 was nothing like those numbers, but it looks like we may very well be edging toward Covid numbers going forward (in terms of people getting sick enough to need medical attention) that will be low enough to lump in with influenza and colds we take for granted as part of everyday life.
Over the past few years, we have necessarily done a great deal of studying of statistics as they have related to pandemics and epidemics over the years, and while nothing in life is guaranteed, Omicron seems to be similar to mutations of past viruses, in that over time they mutate in such a way that they weaken significantly over time, and eventually get lumped into what we generally call seasonal flu or colds.
Reasons to feel VERY Confident About Travel to Europe in Spring/Summer/Fall of 2022 in addition what what you have already read:
- Vaccine Makers are already working on Omicron-resistant boosters. This will not be like developing a new vaccine, but updating existing vaccines, making it faster to produce. The expectation is that if they are even required, they will be widely available well before our season starts.
- We now see a great deal of data that shows the Omicron variant is significantly less potent than earlier variants, and presenting more like a common cold. This is historically consistent with the science of how viruses tend to mutate over time. They become more transmissible, but less potent. This has been the case with other coronaviruses over time, including types 229E, NL63, OC43, and HKU1. These are now simply referred to as "The Common Cold," as they have become so weak. We were similarly concerned a few months ago with the "Mu" variant, that ended up not being a big problem. Of course, we do not know how it will react with certainty, but we will surely have a better grasp in the next few weeks. If we continue to see extremely high number of "cases," but low numbers of vaccinated people with serious illness, this will be excellent news. As noted above, vaccine makers will have new boosters specifically for this variant if it becomes a concern.
- Aside from vaccines, Pfizer and Merck have developed anti-viral pills that show great success in treating Covid. Both have already been given the green light by the FDA, and will be available to all by the end of January. These anti-virals are expected to be game-changers with Covid, as you can take them the moment you find you are infected. The Pfizer pill has shown to reduce hospitalization by 90%. Add that to the much lower hospitalization rate with Omicron, and we are very likely looking at the end of the pandemic, although we will see big numbers in January.
- Now that we have nearly two years of data with Covid waves, we can see the trends world-wide. Europe has seen each of its waves come in winter, while by early Spring, the numbers have gone significantly down. We are seeing this play out again, except with each new wave since vaccinations began, there were more mild or asymptomatic cases, and very few hospitalizations. This trend continues to date.
Status Of 2022 Travel with CDV
In September and October of 2021, CDV operated 16 tours with 236 guests throughout Italy and Portugal after reopening, and despite the concerns of the Delta Variant, everything went beautifully, and we are happy to report that we had zero covid cases among guests and team. As of this writing, all of our 2022 vacations are going forward as scheduled, and should you change your mind before the trip, please look at our cancellation policy for rescheduling options.
As always, we urge all guests to obtain "Cancel for Any Reason" insurance for their trip if they believe they may cancel out of fear. Cancellations due to other reasons are generally covered by normal travel insurance.
Vaccination Status When You Travel
While CDV is not legally allowed to require vaccination for travel, Italy and Portugal are expected to require it for entry in 2022. It is highly likely that you will not be considered fully vaccinated unless you have had the two shots plus the booster by the time our season starts.
Our Policy on Cancellations
CDV takes every precaution with regard to the safety of our guests and team. While we understand that some may cancel out of fear, this is not a reason for moving trips to new dates outside what our policy already allows, which is very liberal compared to most. With that said, if circumstances reach a point similar to 2020, in which travel is not possible in any of our locations, we will offer to move deposits to future vacations as we did in 2020.