Eternal City Rome looks for return of good fortune to Trevi Fountain

Many visitors to Rome will have tossed a coin over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, as legend has it that this means one day they will return to the Eternal City — coronavirus has stopped that. (Reuters/File Photo)
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Updated 30 March 2020

Eternal City Rome looks for return of good fortune to Trevi Fountain

  • The coronavirus stopped tradition of throwing coins into the fountain
  • Used to raise nearly $1.7 million every year for charities

ROME: Many visitors to Rome will have tossed a coin over their shoulder into the Trevi Fountain, as legend has it that this means one day they will return to the Eternal City — and find love and good fortune.

Thousands of visitors used to do that every day and night at this 17th-century masterpiece, one of the best-known landmarks in Rome alongside the Colosseum and St. Peter’s Basilica.

The coronavirus stopped that, nobody knows for how long. And that is at the expense of the poor in Rome who were receiving that money — nearly $1.7 million every year — through a charity that helps the many homeless and vulnerable in the city.

The tradition of tossing coins into this magnificent white marble fountain, designed by Gian Lorenzo Bernini and set like a precious gem between the palaces of the city center, gained worldwide popularity after the release of the 1954 romantic comedy “Three Coins in the Fountain.”

But the tradition started long before the popular American film was made. Originally, it was said that a thirst-quenching glass of water from the Trevi Fountain would ensure good fortune and a quick return to the Eternal City.

According to legend, tossing one coin into the Trevi Fountain means that you will return to Rome; tossing two coins means you’ll return and fall in love. And tossing three coins means you’ll return, find love and marry.

Luck or no luck, the money tourists throw into the fountain all goes to a good cause. It is collected every Monday from the monument during the cleaning of the fountain and then given to Caritas, a Catholic charity, which uses it to support soup kitchens, shelters and any other efforts that help Rome’s poverty-stricken communities, which are mostly composed of immigrants.

The national lockdown declared by the national government against the coronavirus infection stopped tourists visiting Rome.

As a result, in the past 20 days Caritas has lost nearly €190,000 ($210,000) from the “treasure” that is usually obtained from the Trevi Fountain.

“That money is gone with the tourists. And right now it would have been more useful than ever as poverty increases,” said Don Benoni Ambarus, the director of Caritas.

This is one of the many side-effects of the pandemic. If it continues like this until December, there could be more than €1 million less available for the charity. “Ours is not an alarm as at the moment there are many worse dramatic situations to face, but we have to think about it. For the moment we are holding on, compensating the loss from the Trevi Fountain with a fundraising campaign we launched a few days ago,” the priest told Arab News.

The poor people of Rome need the coins from the Trevi Fountain.

Revenue from the fountain funds five “emporiums of solidarity” — supermarkets in  districts of the city allowing about 2,000 of the most needy families to shop for free.

The coins fund a hostel offering 60 beds and 180 meals a day to the homeless. They also fund the repatriation of the bodies of migrants, and expenses for those who cannot afford funerals.

“Now we are stuck,” the priest said. “Our hope is that the fountain will once again be full of coins soon. Not only because poor people need those coins but also because having the tourists able to throw coins again would be a gesture of normality, that would mean that this city is back to its normal life.”

Across the nation, the government is concerned about the effects that the coronavirus may have on levels of poverty and social unrest for those who cannot make enough money to buy food at the supermarket.

Due to the lockdown to contain the infection and the shutdown of non-essential factories and businesses, many Italian citizens have seen a sharp decrease in their incomes. Although soup kitchens and shelters in Rome remain open, the informal systems of support, such as spare change dropped in a cup or supplying a free breakfast pastry, no longer exist.

The closure of bars and restaurants has cut off access to washrooms. Major problems are expected, especially in the south of Italy where the informal economy plays a large role and income has historically been lower.

After an alarming report from the Italian agency for homeland security warning of the “concrete possibility” of people breaking into shops and supermarkets to get food, Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte announced that mayors will soon be able to issue vouchers for food shopping to help low-income people cope with the economic consequences of the coronavirus.

Using an initial €400 million fund, and with an advance payment of €4.3 billion, the central government wants to help the poorest sections of Italian society. Local municipalities will have to use this fund to buy food, medicines and other essential goods for citizens with low incomes.

When it happens, the return of tourists, and coins, to the Trevi Fountain will be a welcome sign that the fortunes of the needy in Rome and Italy are looking up.

Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

Updated 29 May 2020

Philippines cracks down on clandestine COVID-19 clinics

  • Intelligence, immigration officials investigating illegal facilities that catered mostly to foreigners

MANILA: The Philippines has intensified its crackdown on uncertified medical facilities offering treatment to people, particularly foreigners, with COVID-19 symptoms.
Justice Secretary Menardo Guevarra on Thursday ordered the National Bureau of Investigation (NBI) and the Bureau of Immigration (BI) to help the Philippine National Police (PNP) track down foreign nationals behind the illegal clinics.
“It seems that clandestine medical clinics catering mostly to foreign nationals have sprouted and have been operating without proper authority,” Guevarra told reporters.
He said the facilities could have compromised the health of those who had undergone treatment.
“I’ll therefore ask the NBI and the BI to help the police in locating other similar underground clinics and the people running them, and if warranted, to file the appropriate charges against them,” he added.
Guevarra issued the order following a raid on Tuesday on an illegal clinic catering to Chinese patients in Makati City. Arrested in the operation were Chinese nationals Dr. David Lai, 49, and Liao Bruce, 41.
The clinic was reportedly operating without a permit, while the arrested did not have a license to practice medicine in the country.
Seized from the site were swab sticks, vials, syringes and boxes of medicine with Chinese labels — believed to be unregistered with the Food and Drug Administration.
Last week, law enforcers also swooped on a makeshift hospital for Chinese patients in the Fontana Leisure Park in Clark, Pampanga province.
The raid came after police received information that a COVID-19 patient was “undergoing medical attention” in a Fontana villa.
Arrested during the raid were Chinese nationals Liu Wei, who reportedly supervised the facility, and Hu Shiling, allegedly a pharmacist. Both were released on the same day without charge.
Immigration officials on Thursday said the duo had been placed on their watch list to prevent them from leaving the country while an investigation is underway.
BI Commissioner Jaime Morente said intelligence operatives will trace four of the patients, and are looking into the case of the Chinese nationals arrested in Makati.
“I’ve instructed our intelligence division to investigate if these alleged Chinese doctors are legally staying in the country,” he said.
“Should we find they violated our immigration laws, they’ll be charged with deportation cases before our law and investigation division,” he added.
“Even if no criminal charges were filed against them, they can be charged for immigration law violations if we can establish that they violated the conditions of their stay in the country.”
If criminal charges are filed, however, the BI will only deport them after their cases have been resolved or they have served their sentences, if convicted.
Opposition Sen. Risa Hontiveros called for the “immediate deportation and blacklisting” of the Chinese nationals because of their “blatant disregard of our laws.”
She added that while the Philippines is working hard to protect its people from the virus, “these criminals freely roam and pose a danger to public health.”