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Procida becomes Italy’s first fully Covid-vaccinated island

Procida, Italy’s next capital of culture, finished vaccinating all its residents this week, as mass vaccinations get underway on small Italian islands that are bracing for an influx of summer visitors.

Procida becomes Italy’s first fully Covid-vaccinated island
Mass vaccination is underway on the islands of Procida (back) and Ischia (front) in Campania. Photo: Laurent Emmanuel/AFP

The mayor of Procida declared it Italy’s first “Covid-free island” after a four-day vaccination campaign that saw over 90 percent of its 10,000 inhabitants get a shot.

The island in the Bay of Naples, Italy’s capital of culture for 2022, was prioritised not for the sake of tourists but for locals, stressed mayor Dino Ambrosino: “Small islands in Italy are fragile territories that often have limited health services.”

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

Italy’s Covid-19 emergency commissioner, General Francesco Figliuolo, gave the go-ahead for further mass vaccination campaigns on isole minori (small islands) at a meeting with local mayors on Wednesday, according to reports, starting with those where health services are scarcest.

Mass vaccinations are already underway on Procida’s neighbouring islands of Capri and Ischia, while Sicily plans to begin campaigns on its outlying islands this weekend with the goal of getting several of them fully vaccinated within a fortnight.

The Pontine islands off the coast of Lazio, the Tremiti in Puglia, Capraia and Giglio in Tuscany, and the Maddalena archipelago off Sardinia are also aiming to vaccinate all residents in the coming weeks. 

Mayors of Italy’s dozens of small islands, which altogether have a permanent population of a few hundred thousand but can host several times that in summer, have been pushing for blanket vaccination before Italy invites tourists back.

The call for ‘Covid-free islands’, inspired by Greece’s decision to vaccinate residents in its holiday hotspots in time for peak season, has been criticised by regions on the mainland as an unfair use of Italy’s limited doses, with the country still struggling to vaccinate its elderly population.

READ ALSO: ‘We need ammunition’: Jabs for over-60s postponed as Italian regions run out of doses

Commissioner Figliuolo agreed to allocate resources for mass vaccination on small islands providing that islands with the highest infection risk and fewest health facilities be prioritised, according to accounts of Wednesday’s meeting.

The mayor of the Sicilian island of Lampedusa, which is due to open all vaccinations to all adult residents from Saturday, insisted that safety, not tourism, was the primary factor.

“It’s not about saving the tourist season here. It’s a question of protecting public health. The population of Lampedusa has a shortage of health services, there’s no hospital and to get to Porto Empedocle takes eight hours by boat,” said mayor Toto Martello.

Tourists on Lampedusa in 2018. Photo by Alberto PIZZOLI / AFP

The move does not mean that Italy has decided to prioritise vaccines for its tourist hotspots. National priority categories remain in place that mean only older people or those with serious health conditions can currently get vaccinated in most parts of the country – though regions have a certain amount of discretion to set their own vaccination plans.

Sicily in particular has found itself with thousands of unused doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine, after two people in the region died soon after they received the jab. While neither death is confirmed to have been caused by the vaccine, the incidents have contributed to hesitancy and left Sicily the region with the lowest percentage of doses delivered actually administered: around 75 percent, compared to a national average of 82 percent.

Regional governor Nello Musumeci has been pushing to make doses more easily available, including offering jabs to over-60s without appointments for a limited period and now opening vaccinations on small islands even to young, healthy adults.

READ ALSO: 

While local authorities say mass vaccinations on small islands are justified on health grounds, ‘Covid-free islands’ also stand to benefit economically as Italy reopens travel this month.

The government is inviting vaccinated or tested visitors back from mid-May via a Covid-19 green pass that certifies either full vaccination, antibodies or a recent negative test result.

“The world wants to travel to Italy, the pandemic has forced us to close, but Italy is ready to welcome back the world,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi declared this week. “It’s time to book your holiday in Italy, we can’t wait to welcome you again.”

Find all our latest news updates on travel to, from and within Italy here.

Member comments

  1. This website has been handy for me, as I am in my first year of studies in Italy, and this period has been tough with all the restrictions. I would check this website almost every day to see the latest news on the rules updates. Totally worth the subscription.

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TOURISM

OPINION: Why Italy should let the rich pay for ‘private moments’ at tourist hotspots

Instead of criticizing actor Jason Momoa over his VIP visit to the Sistine Chapel, Italy should encourage wealthy visitors to pay large sums for such experiences, says Silvia Marchetti.

OPINION: Why Italy should let the rich pay for ‘private moments’ at tourist hotspots

Signing a generous cheque in order to enjoy a private, exclusive moment – without crowds – at the Colosseum, the Pantheon, or sitting on the Spanish Steps should not be seen as scandalous nor outrageous.

Imagine taking in the view of the Trevi Fountain at sunset, by yourself in a deserted Rome, after having splashed out ten or hundreds of thousands of euros, just to see the sun go down and relax for an hour.

READ ALSO: ‘I love Italy’: Jason Momoa apologises over Sistine Chapel photos

The big fuss over American actor Jason Momoa taking pictures of the Sistine Chapel recently during his Roman stay while shooting his next movie has raised eyebrows worldwide and caused much ado about nothing. It even made global headlines.

The main complaint was that the actor had been granted the privilege of taking photos. in spite of the ‘no-photo’ ban, which many said apparently applied only to ‘ordinary people’.

Personally, I don’t see what the big deal is about Momoa’s not-so intimate moment in the Sistine Chapel.

We Italians tend to look down on tourists who are constantly grabbing their camera to take pictures. We consider our artistic heritage untouchable, or in a way, non-reproducible through photography. 

But Momoa was not committing a crime. 

He later apologized, and explained that he had paid for an exclusive “private moment” by giving the Vatican Museums a large donation.

I think this is something positive: a ‘mechanism’ that could be exploited to raise cash for city coffers and urban projects – instead of raising local taxes that weigh on Italian families.

Rome, and all other Italian cities, should rent out such locations for events – even for just one night, or one hour – in exchange for a high fee.

The rich and famous would be more than happy to pay for such an opportunity to enjoy Italy’s grandeur. As would ordinary people who may decide they can afford it for a special occasion.

These are solo, one-in-a-lifetime experiences in top sites, and must be adequately paid for. 

Rome’s Colosseum in February 2021. Lower visitor numbers amid the Covid-19 pandemic meant Italian residents were able to see the country’s major attractions without the crowds. Photo by Vincenzo PINTO / AFP

Italy is packed with historical, artistic and archeological gems that the entire world envies, people flock here just for a selfie in front of the Looming Tower of Pisa.

So why not make a leap forward and raise the bar for ‘private moments’; something Momoa, despite the unknown sum of money he paid, did not even actually get.

I’m not suggesting Italian cities lease monuments for weeks or months, for they belong to all humanity and everyone has a right to enjoy them. But allowing exclusive, short private experiences at Pompeii, or Verona’s arena, or just time to stare at Botticelli’s The Birth of Venus or Michelangelo’s The Last Judgement, should be seen as a source of extra revenue, not a taboo.

Italy should economically exploit its infinite artistic treasures as a powerful money maker, unleashing the full potential of it. 

If offered the chance, I think Elon Musk would not mind paying hundreds of thousands of euros, or even millions, for a private corporate cocktail party at the Colosseum.

OPINION: Italy must update its image if it wants a new kind of tourism

Of course, you’d need rules: a strict contract with specific clauses in case of damage or guest misbehavior; a detailed price list; and surveillance to safeguard the site during the private event. And extremely high fines if any clause is breached.

It’s a matter of looking at a city from a business and marketing perspective, not just a touristic one.

Today you can already take a private tour of the Vatican Museums for a higher ticket price, but it’s mostly for groups of 10 people, and there’s always a guide with you. You’re never really ‘still’ in your favorite room, so forget having a completely ‘private moment’.  

Taking photos inside the Vatican’s Sistine Chapel is usually forbidden, except for members of the media with special permission and, apparently, celebrities. Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP

One model city to take as reference is Florence, which in the past few years has done a good job of promoting the city brand.

The mayor’s office has set up a special committee that rents out Renaissance piazzas for private wedding celebrations and birthday parties, as well as several key historical spots like the Giardino delle Rose, and Palazzo Vecchio, the historical headquarters of the town hall.

There is an online menu with all the locations available for weddings and other private events, depending on the number of guests and type of celebration. 

Those interested should contact the town hall’s special ‘wedding task force’ if they want to book frescoed rooms in ancient palazzos or other buildings owned by local authorities. Last time I enquired, some elegant rooms are available to hire for as little as €5,000.

Would you pay big money to have major attractions, such as Rome’s Colosseum, all to yourself? Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Venice, too, has attempted to raise cash by renting the façades of public buildings overlooking the Canal Grande to global fashion brands for advertisements, but the move raised eyebrows among locals. 

Even in Florence, residents weren’t so pleased to see huge, lavish billionaire Indian weddings celebrated in front of their palazzi, blocking access to their homes.

Italians need to reset their mentality. If anyone is willing to pay big money to enjoy the solo thrill of a site or location, we should be more than happy to allow it. 

As a result, we might end up paying lower city taxes for waste removal, water and other services. Every day, for free, we share the Trevi Fountain and Piazza Navona with masses of noisy, coin-throwing, gelato-slurping tourists; why not occasionally accept a generous donation from a VIP or philanthropist eager to pay for a moment alone in the company of Bramante and Brunelleschi? 

We would only be helping our cities to maintain their artistic heritage, which fills us with pride.

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