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TOURISM: Italian cruises set sail for the first time in four months

Italian cruise line Costa Cruises was the first to welcome passengers aboard in more than four months as Italy began lifting its coronavirus restrictions.

TOURISM: Italian cruises set sail for the first time in four months
People wave at the Costa Smeralda cruise ship as it leaves the port of Savona, near Genoa, on May 1st, 2021. Photo by Marco Bertorello/AFP

The flagship Costa Smeralda left the northwestern Italian port of Savona on Saturday evening after being landbound since December 20th, when the Italian government banned cruises during the holiday season due to the coronavirus crisis.

Cruise tourism is now possible again – with safety protocols in place – as the country begins to gradually lift some restrictions.

“This cruise has a symbolic value for the recovery of Italy’s tourism sector, I absolutely had to be here,” said passenger Enrico Bergamini, a 35-year-old bank employee from Genoa.

READ ALSO:

The ship left port with around 1,500 passengers on board – a quarter of its full capacity.

All passengers and crew were first tested for coronavirus and mask-wearing will be mandatory throughout the trip.

The 1,300 crew had first observed a 14-day quarantine before reporting for duty.

People pose for a photo on board the Costa Smeralda cruise ship on May 1st. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP

The Italian voyage will last from three to seven days, depending on where it stops on the Italian coast — La Spezia, Civitavecchia, Naples, Messina or Cagliari.

The Costa Smeralda is also set to resume its week-long cruises in the western Mediterranean starting June 12th, with stops in Italy (Savona, Civitavecchia and Palermo), France (Marseille) and Spain (Barcelona and Palma de Mallorca).

Another ship, the Costa Luminosa, is scheduled to depart from Trieste on May 16th for a week-long cruise to Greece and Croatia.

Neither Costa nor its biggest Italian rival, MSC Cruises, have sailed from Venice since the pandemic first pushed Italy to restrict travel last spring.

To the relief of campaigners who have long tried to stop giant liners entering the fragile Venetian lagoon, cruise companies have switched their departures to the bigger ports of Genoa and Trieste.

READ ALSO: ‘New model’: How Florence and Venice plan to rebuild tourism after the coronavirus crisis

Raffaele d’Ambrosio, head of the French arm of Costa Cruises, said the “desire to set off again is very strong among our customers”.

“We receive several hundred bookings every day covering each month until the end of 2022,” he told AFP.

Staff at work in the bar on board the Costa Smeralda cruise ship on May 1st. Photo: Marco Bertorello / AFP

“Cruising, like tourism in general, is one of the sectors most affected by the crisis: 2021 will be a year of recovery and by early 2022 we will be waiting for a return to normality.”

The cruise industry has been hit hard by the pandemic, suffering a shortfall of $77 billion and cutting 518,000 jobs between mid-March and September alone last year, according to the Cruise Lines International Association (CLIA).

Before the pandemic, Italy’s 14.5-billion-euro cruise industry – Europe’s largest – supported nearly 53,000 jobs, according to the Cruise Lines International Association.

READ ALSO:  Italy’s tourism industry reports €120 billion loss in 2020

“Cruises were enjoying major growth before the Covid pandemic and I am convinced they will flourish again after this sad break,” insisted Costa Croisieres president Mario Zanetti.

His firm returned to the ocean again last September, limiting calls to Italian ports, only to suspend operations again in December. 

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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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