UK catering equipment firms with links to parent companies or export partners in Italy were today keeping a close eye on developments after the UK government warned against travel to certain parts of the country.
The Foreign & Commonwealth Office issued updated guidance after more than 325 confirmed cases of the coronavirus and 11 deaths in northern Italy.
The FCO is now advising against “all but essential travel” to 10 small towns in Lombardy and one in Vento, which have been isolated by the Italian authorities.
Italy is a common destination for UK professionals working in the catering equipment sector due to the number of Italian brands with representation in the UK market. Many individuals undertake sales and factory visits on a regular basis.
Almost €200m (£165m) of catering equipment is supplied into the UK market from Italy every year, making it the third largest importer of Italian kit behind France and Germany, according to HOST Observatory figures.
Only China and Germany export more catering equipment globally than Italy.
The country is, of course, also home to the Ali Group, the €2 billion-a-year foodservice equipment conglomerate. Its Milan headquarters is approximately 45 miles from the towns affected by the outbreak. So far, the FCO has not advised against travelling to Milan.
FEJ contacted Ali Group this morning to find out if the company was taking any precautions or imposing travel restrictions on overseas employees due to visit its HQ or branch offices.
Authorities in Italy are working around the clock to bring the situation under control, with schools, universities and public venues closed in the areas affected.
The catering equipment sector has already witnessed the impact that the COVID-19 virus can have on product supply chains and business travel.
Factory closures in China have created concern over parts availability and led to increases in the price of raw materials, while significant constraints have been placed on the movement of people and goods between cities.
The towns in Italy that the FCO has advised against travelling to include Codogno, Castiglione d’Adda, Casalpusterlengo, Fombio, Maleo, Somaglia, Bertonico, Terranova dei Passerini, Castelgerundo, San Fiorano and Veneto.
“The government of Italy has introduced extraordinary measures that allow regions to implement civil protection measures in response to coronavirus, including the isolation of these towns,” the FCO stated.