Fancy the idea of traveling to a small island in Italy this summer? In the effort to contain the impact of coronavirus on the summer season, the country is now working to immunize a number of holiday destinations from Covid-19, starting from its smaller islands.
Following the example of Greece – which has already vaccinated the whole population on most of its islands – Italy has recently begun dialogue with mayors to ensure that the conditions for a fully functioning and safe summer season are met.
The first region to start working on enhanced Covid-19 measures on tourist islands was Naples’ Campania. Specifically, in Procida (Italy’s Culture Capital in 2022), Capri and Ischia, specific priority protocols – entailing mass vaccination of the local population, regardless of age – are being put into place so that the islands can begin welcoming tourists as soon as possible.
The plan to extend the model nationally is already in the government’s mind. According to minister of Tourism Massimo Garavaglia, working this way might make it possible to launch the tourist season in early June. “President Biden and President Macron said they are organizing reopenings based on their national holidays, July 4th and July 14th. Our Republic Day is on June 2nd,” he said in an interview with daily newspaper Il Messaggero.
Francesco Forgione, mayor of the Egadi archipelago (comprising the islands of Favignana, Levanzo and Marettimo) comments: “I think we need both courage and foresight. Italy should behave like Greece, and Sicily should take action.” Forgione was also the first mayor to write a letter to national vaccination strategy chief Francesco Figliuolo, asking him to give small islands priority in the vaccination campaign. “Here, Federalberghi [the national hotels’ association] asked for tourism workers to be the first to get the vaccine. But on small islands there is no distinction between tourism workers and the rest of the population. This applies to the Egadi islands, but also to the Aeolian Islands, Pantelleria, Lampedusa, Linosa, and Ustica. I believe that all of Italy’s small islands share this belief,” he added.
While news of potential immunity was welcomed by those directly involved at the local level, in reality the idea of a differentiated vaccination campaign based on tourist value has received criticism as well. In Campania, for instance, citizens and mayors of various tourist areas pointed fingers at the Regional government’s decision to put in place a strategy which favors certain destinations over others. Luigi de Magistris, mayor of Naples, commented: “It is the government that should tell us what people have priority with regards to the vaccination. It cannot be a Regional governor to establish whether Capri, Ischia and Procida should go first, then followed by Amalfi and Sorrento, then maybe Pozzuoli and Naples.”
In response to the controversy, Fulvio Bonavitacola, Campania’s Vice President, explained: “Capri, Ischia, Procida and the whole coast of Campania mean work for dozens of thousands of workers who have been among the most hit [categories] during this year.” But while the issue is far from being solved, the government appears serious in its intentions to find sustainable solutions for tourism over the summer. “Tourism, just like any other economic activity, relies on expectations and also on planning. Reopening a bar, a hotel or a tourist resort are very different things. This is why we need to define a date quickly, depending on how the pandemic is going,” Tourism Minister Garavaglia said.
In Italy, tourism represents 13% of the national GDP, a percentage which gets crucial in tourism-only destinations, for which summer is essential to economic survival. After a lost winter season and a new lockdown in early spring which has further depressed many commercial activities, many are now pressuring the government to open up. Over the past days, cities like Milan and Rome have seen protests by restaurant owners and peddlers, which in some cases have turned violent. But while malaise at the prolonged closures is evident in the country, the government is not intending to uselessly speed up the process: “[For reopenings] we do not yet have a date, we are considering it, everything depends from how contagion trends and vaccines are going,” prime minister Mario Draghi said in a press conference.
With an average of 18,000 new cases per day and 500 deaths, Italy’s contagion state is improving, though the country still cannot call itself out of danger. According to national authorities, the next months will be crucial to get enough people vaccinated and improve the general outlook. Whilst the holiday period gets set up, the country also aims at being able to welcome travelers from abroad. Concludes Garavaglia: “I hope that with the measures that we are adopting and when we will get a reopening date, foreign tourists will come as well. For now, I know that the Americans are booking for August. I also know that from the UK they are looking closely at vaccination campaigns on the islands. Let’s hope we will soon go back to hearing languages from all over the world”.