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Sicily plans to subsidise holidays after lockdown

Sicily’s regional government has announced plans to subsidise holiday accommodation on the island - once travel to and within Italy is possible again. Here are the details we have so far.

Sicily plans to subsidise holidays after lockdown
A busy beach on the island of Lampedusa, Sicily, in September 2018. File photo: AFP

The island of Sicily is planning to subsidise holidays for both domestic and international visitors in an effort to revive tourism after the coronavirus pandemic, the island's regional authorites have confirmed.

Their current plans include subsidised hotel stays – offering one night of a three-night trip for free – as well as vouchers for visits to museums and other cultural attractions on the island.

The regional government says it has set aside €75 million to be give out to tourists via “vouchers and cards”.

“€75 million has been allocated for the advance purchase by the Region of vouchers and cards to be distributed, for promotional purposes, to tourists, once the health emergency has ceased,” stated the Sicilian local authority's announcement on May 3rd of its 1.5-billion-euro Stability Bill and the latest regional budget.

“We'll buy services such as hotel nights from operators, and we'll give them to tourists, Sicilians or not, who come to us,” Sicily's tourist board director Manlio Messina told news show Mattino Cinque.

“If you stay at least three nights,the region will pay for one (of them), he explained.

Those who stay for six nights will have two of them paid for by local authorities, he added.

Some media reports have stated that the funding would also go towards paying for flights to and from the island, but this has not been officially confirmed.

Sicily's museums and heritage sites currently stand empty under lockdown. Photo: AFP

“Tourism is the sector that suffered the damage first, and will start up again last, which is why we decided to support it, explained Messina.

Italy's tourism sector has suffered huge financial losses, with industry representatives reporting “the worst crisis in recent history” even before the national lockdown came was announced on March 9th.

Sicily's economy relies heavily on tourism, and the sector's rise is often credited with helping ease the grip of organised crime groups on cities like Palermo. But with poverty now rising, particularly in southern Italy, as incomes are lost to the shutdown, there are fears this progress could be undone without government intervention.

It's not yet known when or exactly how the vouchers will be made available, but more details are expected to be published on the Sicilian tourist board's website once travel is possible.

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The Italian government has not released any further details on when current strict travel restrictions to and within the country may be lifted.

While Italy's tourism minister Dario Franceschini has denied claims that Italy would be closed to holidaymakers until 2021, he has also suggested that international travel may not resume by this summer.

Franceschini told Italian newspaper Il Messaggero the ministry was “making a strong investment in domestic tourism, because this will be a summer of holidays in Italy.”

Italy relaxed some rules as it entered phase two of its lockdown on Monday. However, tight restrictions on travel remain in place.

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COVID-19 RULES

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

The health ministry is reviewing its quarantine requirements as the country's Covid-19 health situation improved again this week, according to Italian media reports.

Will Italy drop its Covid isolation rule as the infection rate falls?

Italy has taken a more cautious approach to Covid in recent months than many of its European neighbours, keeping strict isolation rules in place for anyone who tests positive for the virus.

But this could be set to change in the coming days, according to media reports, as one of Italy’s deputy health ministers said the government is about to cut the isolation period for asymptomatic cases.

“Certainly in the next few days there will be a reduction in isolation for those who are positive but have no symptoms,” Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa said in a TV interview on the political talk show Agorà on Tuesday.

“We have to manage to live with the virus,” he said.

Italy’s La Stampa newspaper reported that the compulsory isolation period could be reduced to 48 hours for those who test positive but remain asymptomatic – provided they subsequently test negative after the day two mark.

Under Italy’s current rules, vaccinated people who test positive must stay in isolation for at least seven days, and unvaccinated people for ten days – regardless of whether or not they have any symptoms.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

At the end of the isolation period, the patient has to take another test to exit quarantine. Those who test negative are free to leave; those who remain positive must stay in isolation until they get a negative test result, up to a maximum of 21 days in total (at which point it doesn’t matter what the test result says).

Health ministry sources indicated the new rules would cut the maximum quarantine period to 15 or even 10 days for people who continue to test positive after the initial isolation period is up, La Stampa said.

The government is believed to be reviewing the rules as the latest official data showed Covid infection and hospitalisation rates were slowing again this week, as the current wave of contagions appeared to have peaked in mid-July.

However, the national Rt number (which shows the rate of transmission) remained above the epidemic threshold, and the number of fatalities continued to rise.

The proposed changes still aren’t lenient enough for some parties. Regional authorities have been pushing for an end to quarantine altogether, even for people who are actively positive – an idea Costa appears sympathetic to.

“The next step I think is to consider the idea of even eliminating the quarantine, perhaps by wearing a mask and therefore being able to go to work,” he told reporters.

“We must review the criteria for isolation, to avoid blocking the country again”.

At least one health expert, however, was unenthusiastic about the proposal.

Dr Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italy’s evidence-based medicine group Gimbe, tweeted on Tuesday: “There are currently no epidemiological or public health reasons to abolish the isolation of Covid-19 positives”

Massimo Andreoni, professor of Infectious Diseases at the Faculty of Medicine and Surgery of the Tor Vergata University of Rome, was more ambivalent about the prospect.

The isolation requirement for asymptomatic cases should be “revised somewhat in the light of the epidemiological data”, he told reporters, but urged “a minimum of precaution, because the less the virus circulates and the fewer severe cases there are, the fewer new variants arise”.

When the question was last raised at the end of June, Health Minister Roberto Speranza was firmly against the idea of lifting quarantine requirements for people who were Covid positive.

“At the moment such a thing is not in question,” he told newspaper La Repubblica at the time. “Anyone who is infected must stay at home.”

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