Millions head to Italian beaches every summer, and over a month into Italy's Covid-19 lockdown more and more people are wondering whether they'll be able to do the same this year.
“We'll go to the seaside this summer,” undersecretary for culture Lorenza Bonaccorsi told Rai News over the weekend. “We're working to make that possible.”
Among the options being considered are rules to enforce social distancing on beaches, the Culture Ministry official said.
That might take the form of spreading out rental deckchairs and sun umbrellas several metres apart, a drastic change from the usual scenes on Italian beaches every summer when space can be so tight it's hard to put a towel down.
One Italian company has proposed a more radical solution: plexiglass barriers to separate beachgoers.
Nuova Neon Group 2, a plastics manufacturer in Emilia Romagna, has designed an aluminium-and-plastic cubicle big enough for two deckchairs that would give each group of holidaymakers around 20 square metres of space to themselves.
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“We've already received several inquiries from beach operators and restaurants,” owner Claudio Ferrari told La Repubblica, adding that plastic table dividers could also make their way into cafes and restaurants once they're eventually allowed to reopen.
While that solution might seem far-fetched, Italy's beach operators association Federbalneari says the precautions the industry is contemplating include introducing an obligatory deckchair reservation system to reduce crowding, and allocating time slots for different age groups to help protect people at higher risk from infection.
Other safety measures could include closing all beachside playgrounds, installing extra hand-washing facilities and even disinfecting sand, the association's vice-president Mauro Della Valle told Il Fatto Quotidiano.
A police officer instructs a dog walker to leave the beach at Ostia, near Rome. Photo: Alberto Pizzoli/AFP
One change that seems certain is that beaches will be more Italian this summer: Italy is expected to receive an estimated 25 million fewer visitors from overseas between July and September 2020.
Meanwhile with many other countries under similar lockdowns, Italian residents are likely to cancel their own trips abroad.
Staying local might be Italians' safest – or only – option for a summer holiday this year. According to a survey done for Italian tourism association Confturismo, seven out of every ten Italians think the crisis will be over in two or three months – and nearly half say they would then be ready to vacation somewhere in Italy.
“We can start thinking about planning our holidays with caution, since there won't be a vaccine but hopefully we'll have a treatment and the virus will be manageable,” commented Italy's undersecretary for health, Sandra Zampa.
“Thinking about being stuck at home in a sweltering city in July and August is enough to worry anyone.”
While Italian beaches remain strictly policed under current quarantine rules, some regions including Liguria, Emilia Romagna and Abruzzo have given operators permission to carry out maintenance on their beach facilities to have them ready for eventual reopening in the coming months.
As Della Valle of the beach operators association says: “I don't think you can keep Italians away from the beach in July.”