Italy desperate for tourists as country reopens to Europe
It reopens its doors to European travellers but experts warn move is premature
ROME: Italy reopened to travellers from Europe yesterday, three months after the country went into coronavirus lockdown, with all hopes pinned on reviving its key tourism industry as the summer season begins.
Gondolas were ready to punt along Venice's canals, lovers will be able to act out "Romeo and Juliet" on Verona's famed balcony, and you can pose for selfies at Rome's Colosseum.
But there were fears many foreign tourists would be put off coming to a country still shaking off a vicious pandemic.
"We hoped to see some movement from today, but have no foreign tourists booked in for this week or next," said Ms Alessandra Conti, a receptionist at the Albergo del Senato hotel which overlooks the Pantheon in Rome.
"We've got a few reservations from mid-June... (but) are still getting lots of cancellations for this summer".
Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus and has officially reported more than 33,500 deaths - the third highest toll in the world.
It imposed an economically crippling lockdown in early March and has since seen its infection numbers drop off.
With the country facing its deepest recession since World War II, it needs foreign tourists to return, and quickly.
But it is still reporting hundreds of new cases a day, particularly in the northern Lombardy region, and experts warn the government may be moving too quickly in permitting travel between regions and abroad.
Infectious diseases expert Massimo Galli said it would have been better to wait until next month to reopen the borders.
The virus "smoulders under the ashes, and when it finds the ideal conditions, it explodes. Even more so if we lower our guard", he said.
International flights into Milan, Rome and Naples have increased, with a few also to smaller, regional airports.
Switzerland has warned its citizens that if they go to Italy they will be subject to "health measures" on their return. The country will open its borders with Germany, France and Austria on June 15, but not with Italy.
Austria is lifting restrictions in mid-June with Germany, Switzerland, the Czech Republic, Slovakia and Hungary - but again, not Italy, described last week by Vienna's health minister as "still a hot spot".
Germany will lift its blanket travel warning for European nations from June 15, Foreign Minister Heiko Maas said.
Other countries, such as Belgium and Britain, are still advising against, or forbidding, all non-essential travel abroad.
Belgium will reopen bars, restaurants and other areas of social and cultural life from June 8, but not nightclubs, a government minister said yesterday.
Spain is working on plans to gradually open its borders to tourists from countries deemed more secure in the fight against the coronavirus, possibly starting from June 22, the tourism ministry said yesterday.
In response to perceived anti-Italian sentiment, Foreign Minister Luigi Di Maio has warned countries not to treat Italy "like a leper".
He said he will be travelling to Germany, Slovenia and Greece to persuade them Italy is safe for foreign tourists, and was set to meet his French counterpart Jean-Yves Le Drian in Rome.
"Who's going to come? No one from South America, China or the US. And the Europeans will be scared," said Mr Mimmo Burgio, 62, owner of a cafe near Rome's Colosseum.
"We're pinning all our hopes on Italian tourists, but... I'm afraid they'll go to the seaside instead." - AFP, REUTERS