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WHY I AM STAYING PUT IN NORTHERN ITALY

The area has the highest number of cases of Coronavirus in Europe and if you believe some of the hype you may think bubonic plague is here. Not so.

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“Why are you staying in Northern Italy?” is the question I am asked the most at the moment by friends, family and PlanetSKI readers.

It makes a change from the usual favourites:

What’s the snow like?

Which is your favourite resort?

What do you do in the summer?

And here is my answer to the Italian question:

I am currently living in Aosta for the winter and not only does the city (population 35,000) not have a single case of Covid-19, neither does the Province of the Aosta Valley.

This will very likely change, but at the moment it is the only province in Italy without a case.

The skiing at the moment is fabulous with another big storm rolling in – the second of the week with more snow set to fall next week.

Locals tell me it is easily the best snow conditions of the winter and is getting better by the day.

But for me the snow conditions are completely irrelevant in my judgement to stay.

If I felt threatened by coronavirus I would be off.

Pronto.

Powder can wait.

The snow has nothing to do with my decision to stay.

It is all about the current facts on coronavirus and the likely outcomes of where I am.

First, the virus itself.

According to the World Health Organisation around 80% of people who contract the new coronavirus recover without needing special treatment.

Around one out of every six people who gets COVID-19 becomes seriously ill and develops difficulty breathing.

Some 3.4% of  cases are fatal.

These are usually older people and those with underlying medical problems like high blood pressure, heart problems or diabetes.

I am doing everything I am advised to do in terms of washing hands, avoiding large groups, not shaking hands with people etc…

My hands are certainly the cleanest they have ever been and see soap and water more than a dozen times a day.

My kissing days with random strangers in bars and clubs are (sadly) well and truly over so there is no concern on that front.

I am also keeping my face covered.

Not because it is very effective, but rather it stops me touching my face with my hands.

Apparently, humans touch their face with their hands involuntarily 90 times a day.

I am now doing it through a PlanetSKI buff to minimise risk.

In reality I assess the current chance of personally contracting coronavirus to be very small.

There is the small matter of where I would go anyway.

Home is London and it is spreading there.

There are more cases in London than where I am.

However, I have taken the precaution of stocking up with 2-weeks of food and booze in my apartment.

Partly if I have to self-isolate, but more realistically if there is an outbreak in Aosta I can stay put and not have to go to supermarkets or any other places with large numbers of people.

Up on the slopes I am not taking cable cars and I am waiting in the gondola queue until an empty one is available.

Mostly I am taking chairlifts and always sitting on the outside seat and facing away from the other people.

I am not going to busy bars and restaurants.

I am not recommending people come here, this is just my personal view given my circumstances.

My current advice to friends and family coming to stay over the next few weeks is to make their own mind up.

I suggest they fly into Geneva in Switzerland and then drive through the Mont Blanc Tunnel from France to get here.

It is not much longer than flying into Milan or Turin.

Others staying put here in the mountains in northern Italy say they don’t want to let down local businesses and the economy.

They want to make a statement about the hype and hysteria.

That is not a factor in my decision.

I am being purely selfish and the moment I thought I might be under realistic threat I would leave.

All this is just my current judgement at this point in time, and it may or may not alter as the facts do.

Now I should also add that I am a news journalist and covering a news story is in my DNA.

The coronavirus story is a global news story, and I am in the right place at the right time.

Back in the day at the BBC I had shots fired in my general direction a few times and petrol bombs hurled at me on the streets of Belfast and Derry.

When trouble happened I would generally head towards it rather than run away.

But I did so with knowledge and training.

The key thing is to keep one’s eyes and ears open, assess facts, think about likely outcomes, judge the risks & the balance of probabilities and then simply trust one’s gut instinct.

Having an exit strategy is also vital.

Should I need to leave the area there is the aforementioned Mont Blanc tunnel into France 45-minutes away and the St Bernard Tunnel to Switzerland is even closer.

There will likely be indications that the borders will shut before they do, and I have what we used to call at the BBC a “go bag” packed and ready.

I can be out of my apartment and off in under 10-minutes should I need to.

At the moment I do not think I will need to, but I can.

The key thing is to continually assess the situation as it changes.

I am keeping a very close eye on the situation, reading between the lines of anything I am told by the authorities and the media while trusting my instincts and judgment.

I could leave tomorrow or in a few weeks as things may change.

At the moment I believe I have made the right call.

And I am skiing the best powder of the season here in the Aosta Valley and utterly loving it.

UPDATED,  Saturday 7th March:

As expected Covid-19 has now been confirmed in the Aosta Valley with 8 people having the virus.

Two were announced on Friday and an eighth was confirmed on Saturday.

It is still 21 less than the 29 current cases in my hometown of London in the UK, but I fully expect the total here in Aosta to rise.

The Aosta Valley is also a huge geographical area by comparison, with a population density many times less than London.

All of the eight are in quarantine at home as their symptoms are mild and do not require hospitalisation.

In the Aosta Valley  57 people are quarantined in various municipalities in the region.

In addition to the eight tested positive for Covid-19, there are people who have only had contact with the risk areas and have no symptoms.

For them isolation is a precautionary measure.

The coronavirus death total in Italy as a whole is the second highest in the world after China.

Italy also saw its number of COVID-19 infections grow by 778 to 4,636, now the fourth-highest in the world after China, South Korea and Iran.

There are currently 3,916 active cases in Italy.

I remain following the developments closely and my decision to stay remains unchanged, but constantly under review.

And skiing superb powder snow after yet another huge snowfall in the Aosta Valley.

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