ROME - Italy was one of the world’s hardest hit nations at the start of the pandemic. As the Italian government continues to lift COVID-19 travel restrictions, the country’s art cities are starting to see a return to tourists in their museums, galleries and bars and restaurants. The numbers are far from those of the past but there is an air of optimism that pervades the squares and streets in cities like Florence, so badly in need of a return to visitors.
COVID-19 infections and deaths have been on a steady decline in Italy in recent weeks and the Italian government has decided the curbs in place to limit the spread of the virus can be gradually relaxed across the country.
Vaccinations are also continuing at a steady pace and in the country that suffered the second highest death toll in Europe, after Britain, there is a general feeling of optimism among the population.
In art cities like Florence that have suffered a huge toll from the lack of tourism, visitors have started to trickle back as museums and galleries reopened their doors. Monica Milandri runs a small 14-room boutique hotel right next to the Gucci restaurant in an enviable position, the central Piazza della Signoria.
She says that for the time being bookings have been forthcoming exclusively from Italians, most who come for the day or stay just one night and for the moment these arrivals are just over the weekend.
Milandri says some hotels in Florence, particularly smaller ones, will not be reopening any time soon after the huge losses they suffered because of COVID-19. The virus, she says, has caused tremendous damage to the sector.
She says her hotel alone has lost 92 percent of its traffic compared to 2019. She fears this year it will not be easy to return to the numbers of the past. Italians, she says, do not normally visit art cities in the summer so her hope is for a return of foreign travelers as soon as possible.
But as one walks in front of the beauty of Florence’s Duomo and exquisite bell-tower by Giotto, the bars and restaurants in the square have gone back to being populated and many are enjoying their capuccinos sitting in the sun at the tables outside, a sight that had been forgotten. The eerie emptiness of recent months has gone.
All of Italy’s 20 regions, apart from one in the north of the country, Valle d’Aosta, have been placed in the low-risk yellow level and the government has announced further easing of restrictions in the coming weeks.
A nightly 10 o’clock curfew is being extended immediately to one hour later and to midnight on June 7 and then lifted altogether from June 21. Gyms will reopen next and from June restaurants will also be able to serve customers indoors and not just outdoors. But for the moment, masks and social distancing remain mandatory.
In a further effort to reopen the country to tourism, mandatory quarantine for arrivals from European Union countries, Britain and Israel has been removed providing visitors pass a negative COVID-19 test. US airlines are providing COVID-19 safe flights — requiring testing — to Italy. The country is ready to welcome foreigners back as it awaits a European Union “Green Pass” scheme which will further facilitate safe movement between countries.