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Hey there,

In Italy phase two of the COVID-19 pandemic started between May 18th and May 25th and it corresponded with the start of less strict measures. Since then things have been moving very smoothly towards a gradual reopening and phase THREE.

 

Because of public pressure and with the nervous ok of the scientific task force, the government even sped up some reopenings initially planned for later in June (gyms, spas and salons, hair dressers).

 

In the media most of the attention moved from health to economy and to the strenuous negotiations within the EU for grants and/or loans.  Money is there and lots of it. Mr Conte (Italy's Prime Minister) should rightly consider it his win and the negotiation is now about when money can become available because in normal times this would require six months. And of course the argument is that we don’t have six months to just wait to pump money into the economy.

 

In any case, the often-criticized European Union has the boldest vision for the future since its inception. They call it Next Generation EU. If the EU can turn COVID-19 into a socio-economical opportunity, that would make the old continent less fragmented and with more leverage at the global level.   

 

In Italy there’s also a call for dialogue and unity such as during after WWII times. I don’t think that the conditions are there for that because the opposition parties exhausted their patience during the most tragic weeks when death tolls called for responsibility and quiet.

 

Can things be too good?

 

June 3rd was a day that everyone was looking forward to and feared at the same time. The border closure among regions was lifted as well as closures among most European countries. Train stations were full of people. There were lines to board ferries to Sicily and at the border with France. Remember that you could not make it back home if you were in another region when the lockdown began. 

 

Free movement from region to region reminded us of the socio-cultural divide between the north and south of Italy.

 

Some region governors in the south of Italy wanted to wait longer because the great majority of the COVID cases were in the north. It was very bizarre because historically it’s always been the north pushing back on southern immigration and looking down on them for their poor healthcare system, among other things. It felt like retaliation but it was justified if you see things from their point of view: who wants an outbreak when you managed to stay out of trouble?

 

Freedom of movement was reinstated at once with the central government intervening (regions cannot constitutionally limit access). But not before the mayor of Milan boasted “they won’t see me any time soon” when asked about the region of Sardinia's plans to screen anyone from outside.

 

At the EU level it’s a different story because Austria and Greece did not reciprocate and limited access to Italians. It wasn’t pleasant be singled out but luckily we live in Italy.

 

By July, we expect all borders within the EU will be open and perhaps countries from other continents, too, will be able to come.

 

Monday’s numbers show 301 new cases (259 in Lombardy alone), 26 deaths. 9 regions reported zero cases.

 

My honest opinion of phase 3 is that it is going great, so great that I almost feel that things got better too fast. It could be psychological but some experts (but most don’t agree) say that the virus is not as strong now. We don’t know if that’s the case but by looking at numbers and at empty ICUs we are now very optimistic that the worst is over for good. Any local outbreaks can be contained quickly, as was the case with two recent clusters in Rome.

 

Of course, having a vaccine would be a different story, but things are back to normal and we keep complying with the prevention measures that are now very familiar: social distancing and masks when in close proximity with others. Hand hygiene. Waiting in line.

 

We have gone for bike rides, out to dinner by ourselves and with family, we got haircuts and traveled to visit friends outside of Piedmont. Traffic is bad as usual.

 

That’s our life right now, however travel at large is a different story. Air traffic doubled but less than 50% of hotels are open and inbound tourism is still very weak. I’ve heard that in Naples only 10 4-star hotels out of 150 were open as of a week ago.

 

Following temporary closures that lasted over two months, museums are open with all of the safety measures in place. Some municipal museums such as the ones in Siena were behind but they are opened this weekend and some city tours have also resumed.

 

Fewer people and more spread out visitors does not sound like a bad idea and Italians should take advantage of this quiet time to discover or rediscover their cultural heritage. Heather and I plan to visit the Museum of Contemporary Art housed in the castle of Rivoli. 

 

Schools won’t reopen until September for the new school year. End of the year exams are coming soon and that has been challenging for students and educators who are trying to balance social distancing with timely and smooth exams.

 

What is the Summer Outlook

 

The summer outlook shows potential for safe travel to semi-empty destinations. When on vacation no one should let their guard down in terms of prevention for their own safety, the safety of the locals, and of the people working in tourism and hospitality. At Tourissimo we have our protocols drafted and by August we have also planned some specific guide training.

 

I don’t know if a second wave will hit or when. No one can say for sure and all we can do is to continue with preventive measures. The minister of health, Mr. Speranza, addressed the parliament and has said that, “a second waive is not certain but it is possible." His last name - Speranza -  means ‘hope’ in English and that’s enough for now.

 

In conclusion, with prevention and testing we can look forward to some normal times including some travel.

 

For now, you can travel with your palate and taste buds by joining Tourissimo Wine Club, Vinissimo.  There are still a few spots left and we are taking orders until June 26.

 

One word about the experts: expertise is very sought out in times of crises. In this contest it is very important that we use our own common sense and comply with what we know works. It’s easy to get sloppy when the emergency fades.

 

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Non-COVID News

 

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