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TOURISM: How Italy’s ‘Covid-free islands’ vaccine plan hopes to save summer travel

Italy's holiday islands hope to begin vaccinating all residents as a priority under a new plan aiming to allow summer tourism to restart this year.

TOURISM: How Italy's 'Covid-free islands' vaccine plan hopes to save summer travel
The Italian island of Lampedusa, Sicily, is set to be among those included in the vaccine plan. Photo by Alberto Pizzoli/AFP

Italy could soon prioritise giving jabs to all residents of holiday islands, according to media reports, after local mayors pushed for the country to copy a tourism-focused vaccine programme underway in Greece.

The ‘Covid-free islands’ vaccination plan, which means vaccinating everyone living or working on the smaller Italian islands where tourism is the main industry, was suggested after Greece said it would soon have the residents of all its famed holiday islands vaccinated.

READ ALSO: Can I travel to Italy if I’ve had both doses of the Covid vaccine?

The programme would reportedly focus on smaller islands in the southern regions of Sicily and Campania, including Ischia, Capri, and Procida, the Aeolian, Egadi and Pelagie islands, as well as Puglia’s Tremiti islands and Tuscany’s Elba.

Meanwhile, the presidents of the large island regions of Sardinia and Sicily have also asked the government to vaccinate their entire populations as soon as possible “due to their large tourism industries”.

Italian newsaper Il Messaggero on Monday reported that emergency commissioner General Francesco Figliuolo had accepted the proposal to begin the vaccination of all inhabitants of the smaller islands from the end of April.

However, the government has not officially announced this, despite the tourism ministry giving some positive signals last week.

“We could do it. There is an open table,” Tourism Minister Massimo Garavaglia told reporters when asked if the government would approve the plan.

He said the government is hoping to make travel “simple” and that this suggestion “seems clear enough to me”.

READ ALSO:

But not everyone is happy with the idea.

The president of the Emilia-Romagna region, Stefano Bonaccini, said island tourist destinations “cannot be prioritised at the expense of others”, while Massimiliano Fedriga, president of Friuli-Venezia Giulia, said the vaccine rollout should be “equal” otherwise “social tensions” could flare.

The island vaccination plan has also faced criticism from some health experts on Monday.

Milan-based researcher Matteo Villa said on Twitter that the plan was “illogical” as it would mean “doses wasted on a young population, when they could be used on elderly people”.

Italy’s government has not yet given a firm date for restarting holiday travel in summer, though Garavaglia last week suggested June 2nd.

The news of the new plan comes just days after Italy’s government pledged to prioritise vaccinating all over-75s, amid accusations that the national plan has so far prioritised the wrong groups, leading to a higher death toll among vulnerable elderly people.

For now, Italy’s vaccination rate remains slower than expected while the country continues to report a higher death toll than neighbouring European countries.

Part of the hold-up is believed to be due to some people who are eligible for the vaccine refusing to take AstraZeneca after public confidence in the jab was shaken by reports linking it to rare blood clots, and by a series conflicting recommendations on its use.

EXPLAINED: Why has Italy recommended the AstraZeneca vaccine for over-60s only?

On the island of Sicily, up to 80 percent of people booked for the jab are reportedly refusing to take it.

Meanwhile, Sardinia had already introduced additional testing for all arrivals under plans intended to make the island a safe haven for tourists, after it was declared Italy’s first and only low-risk Covid ‘white zone’ earlier this year due to its falling infection rate.

However, the island’s residents are now effectively back under lockdown as Sardinia was again designated a high-risk ‘red zone’ from Monday.

For now, tourism remains impossible across Italy due to strict international and domestic travel restrictions and closures affecting most businesses. All museums and attractions remain closed.

Non-essential travel into Italy remains heavily restricted for most non-EU countries, and testing and/or quarantine is a requirement for all arrivals.

The whole of Italy remains under tightened restrictions until at least the end of April, with all non-essential travel between towns and regions forbidden and a nightly curfew in place.

Find more information about travel to or from Italy on the Health Ministry’s website (in English).

Member comments

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COVID-19

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”

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