Italy is the world’s fifth-most visited destination – and with a third wave now under way, there is no obvious end in sight to the tourism crisis the country faces.
The collapse in the number of tourists to Italy was jaw-dropping last year, with only 25.5 million foreign visitors spending at least one night in the peninsula, versus 65 million in 2019 – a drop of more than 60 percent.
That corresponded to revenue of only 17.45 billion euros ($20.6 billion), 26.85 billion euros less than the prior year, according to new figures from the Bank of Italy.
“The situation is really dramatic and everything must be done to revive a sector so vital for our country,” said the president of the Italian Union of Chambers of Commerce, Carlo Sangalli.
Nearly 100,000 companies in Italy’s tourism sector are at risk of bankruptcy, according to the research institute Demoskopika, with a potential loss of 440,000 jobs.
Italy is counting on Covid-free travel to galvanise Italy’s tourism sector
“The year 2020 was catastrophic for us,” said Marina Denti, owner of a leather store in Varenna, a picturesque fishing village on Lake Como.
She is still sorely lacking in foreign customers, especially big-spending Americans, an absence that saw her turnover drop by 80 percent last year.
“Even George Clooney doesn’t come anymore with this pandemic,” she said, referring to the area’s most famous homeowner, proprietor of an opulent villa on the other side of the lake, in Laglio.
Before coronavirus swept across the country and beyond, tourism accounted for nearly 14 percent of gross domestic product for Italy, the eurozone’s third-largest economy.
The collapse of this key economic driver, with hotels and restaurants closed for months on end, helped plunge the country last year into the worst recession since World War II.
To try to get things moving again, Italian railroads are offering “Covid-free” high-speed rail links between Rome and Milan beginning in early April, a first in Europe. All staff and passengers will be tested before boarding.
The airline Alitalia launched a similar initiative last year on some domestic and international flights. The mayors of Venice and Florence, cradles of art and history, meanwhile have joined forces to demand urgent aid from the government, claiming that without these two cities back on their feet, Italy will not recover.
International tourism might not return to pre-pandemic levels until 2023
“Deprived of tourists, Venice has become a dead city like Pompeii, it’s sad when you walk down the street,” said Anna Bigai, one of the city’s tour guides, who has only done a dozen guided tours over the past year.
Throughout Italy, overnight stays of foreign tourists fell by 54 percent to 184.1 million in 2020 and the outlook for 2021 remains bleak.
“International tourism in Italy should not return to pre-pandemic levels before 2023,” warned the director of the national tourism agency, Giorgio Palmucci.
Even Portofino, a popular destination for celebrities and billionaires from all over the world, has not been spared. Its Rolex and Christian Dior stores remain desperately empty, waiting for the return of rich foreign customers.
“In 2020, we had the worst year in a decade,” sighed Emanuela Cattaneo, owner of a wine bar on the port, lamenting the absence of American and English customers.
Still, a few rare foreign tourists have enjoyed the unusual calm. Rainer Lippert from Heidelberg, Germany, came to Milan, where he and his family were admiring the view from the roof of the city’s Gothic Duomo.
“It’s fantastic to be here when there are not so many people around,” he said. “Given the circumstances it’s the best choice we could make.”
As if to hammer home the challenges faced by Italy’s tourist sites, within days of Lippert’s visit, the Duomo was once again closed for coronavirus restrictions.
Despite current international restrictions on travel – and the fact that most of Italy is currently in some form of lockdown – RyanAir announced on Wednesday that the airline is expanding its summer flight schedule between the UK and Italy.
The Italian tourism minister has expressed that the country is keen to restart tourism as soon as infection rates fall and vaccination campaigns pick up pace. Since plans for a health passport are also still up in the air, for now, it’s too early to say yet when Italy’s tourism could re-start.
All you need to know on getting the Moderna vaccine as a booster
People due to receive their Covid-19 booster vaccine in coming weeks will primarily be offered the Moderna dose at HSE vaccination centres.
The HSE is reported to have large supplies of Moderna due to expire next month, so that will be the main vaccine administered over coming weeks to the over-60s, over-50s, healthcare workers, and younger people in vulnerable groups – though it will be restricted to people over 30.
Anecdotally there are indications some people may be reluctant to take the Moderna vaccine. This may be due to Irish stocks about to expire shortly and/or confusion about its efficacy. This follows the company’s chief executive Stéphane Bancel warning last week the Moderna jab may not be as effective against Omicron as it had been with the Delta variant.
The HSE has confirmed recipients will have no choice on what vaccine they are given.
What type of coronavirus vaccine is the Moderna jab?
It is a new kind of synthetic “mRNA vaccine” – the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine is from the same stable. They provide excellent protection against severe illness and hospitalisation – and have played a critical role in reducing Covid-19 deaths since being approved. A downside, however, is that the Moderna version must be kept at -20 degrees.
Should people be worried about receiving a soon to be out-of-date vaccine?
|Total doses distributed to Ireland||Total doses administered in Ireland|
In short no, as they retain the ability to boost antibody production within currently approved time spans – though inevitably potency wanes over time. The Pfizer, Moderna, AstraZeneca, and Janssen (Johnson&Johnson) vaccines were put on the market with emergency use authorisation of up to six months.
This compares with a shelf life of two to three years for most vaccines and other medicines. This is an “inevitable consequence of getting the vaccines out of the door as quickly as possible”, chief scientist at the Royal Pharmaceutical Society Gino Martini told the journal BMJ.
Months later, these “emergency” expiry dates remain in force for these vaccines. For approved Covid-19 vaccines, the initial shelf lives were based on data available at the time of submission for regulatory approval.
The long-term shelf life has not been extended for any of the vaccines. A shelf life extension would require supporting evidence from relevant stability studies. Vaccine manufacturers are monitoring batches of vaccines with the aim of providing a longer shelf life; probably the usual two years.
What about the Omicron threat?
While Moderna said existing vaccines including its mRNA version will probably be less effective against the Omicron variant, most experts believe they will continue to provide significant protection against severe disease and hospitalisation. It should be stressed, however, definitive indication has yet to emerge. That will be a matter of weeks, if not days.
Moderna has confirmed it is developing an Omicron-specific booster though manufacturing the new vaccine would take time. Tens of millions of doses could be available in the first quarter of 2022, but scale-up would not happen until the second quarter – provided it is shown such boosters are required.
What is the latest indication on the benefits of mixing vaccines?
Evidence supporting a mixing of vaccine doses has hardened over recent months. A study this week shows combining a first dose of the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine with a second dose of either the Moderna or the Novavax jabs results in far higher levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells compared with two doses of the AstraZeneca jab.
This finding also has important implications for lower-income countries that have not yet completed their primary vaccination campaigns as it suggests you do not need access to mRNA vaccines – and therefore ultra-cold storage facilities – to trigger an extremely potent Covid-19 vaccine response.
The study also bolsters confidence that using the Moderna vaccine as a booster dose in people who have previously received the AstraZeneca jab should result in high levels of neutralising antibodies and T-cells.
It follows separate data published last week suggesting the Pfizer and Moderna booster jabs can dramatically strengthen the body’s immune defences.
Woman (90s) dies following single-vehicle crash in Co Clare
A woman in her 90s has died following a single-vehicle crash in Co Clare in the early hours of Tuesday.
The incident occurred at about 12.30am at Annagh, Miltown Malbay. The woman, who was the driver and sole occupant of the car involved in the crash, was pronounced dead at the scene.
Her body was removed to Limerick University Hospital, where gardaí say a postmortem will take place at a later date.
The road has been closed to facilitate an exam by Garda forensic collision investigators, and local diversions are in place.
Gardaí have appealed for witnesses – particularly road users who may have camera footage – to come forward. Anyone with information can contact Kilrush Garda station (065 908 0550), the confidential line (1800 666 111), or any Garda station.
What areas will be worst hit and what is closing?
Just how serious is Storm Barra?
Storm Barra is set to hit Ireland fully on Tuesday morning, with Met Éireann warning that the severe weather could pose a threat to life.
The storm will rapidly deepen over the west and south coast on Monday evening, bringing very strong winds and heavy rain on Tuesday and into Wednesday.
Met Éireann have also warned that there is a risk of snow, as well as coastal flooding, due to the combination of high waves, storm surges and high tide.
Southwesterly winds, which will later veer northwesterly, will reach mean speeds in excess of 80 km/h.
Severe or damaging gusts may reach speeds in excess of 130km/h.
Power and travel may be disrupted across the country.
What are the areas most affected?
There is a status red wind warning in place for counties Cork, Kerry and Clare. Cork and Kerry’s warning starts at 6am on Tuesday and lasts until 9pm that evening.
Clare will be under a red alert from 4pm on Tuesday until 1am on Wednesday.
Limerick, Waterford, Galway, Mayo, Wexford, Dublin, Louth, Wicklow and Meath are also under an orange wind warning.
However, Met Éireann have advised that there is a strong possibility that the status orange alerts will escalate to status red.
A red marine storm warning will also be in effect for Irish coastal waters from north Mayo to Cork city.
The rest of the country will be under a status yellow wind and rain warning, with Met Éireann saying that heavy rain may result in surface flooding.
There is also a risk of snow over the entire country, and flooding in coastal areas.
Is it okay to go out in the storm?
People in the affected areas are being advised to avoid all unnecessary journeys, meaning you should stay indoors if possible.
People on motorbikes, cyclists, and pedestrians should take extra care if they have to travel, and they should avoid coastal areas.
Motorists are also advised to be more wary while driving, and to look out for fallen trees and debris on the road.
The charity Alone urged older people to take extra care and called on members of the public to “check in with their older neighbours and relatives and assist them if they need to travel to the local shop, post office or medical appointments during the bad weather”.
What has been cancelled or closed?
The Department of Education, which oversees primary and secondary schools, has advised schools in red and orange alert counties to close.
The Department of Higher Education, which governs colleges, universities and further education institutes, has issued a similar statement, saying education institutions in red and orange alert counties should close also.
Creches, early learning and school-age childcare services in the 12 counties should not open tomorrow, according to the Department of Children. Services that close will receive Force Majeure funding, according to the department.
Bus Éireann services in Co Cork and Co Kerry will be suspended for the full day. Services in Co Clare will be suspended from 4pm on Tuesday until 1am on Wednesday. This cancellation will also apply to all routes operating into or out of the status red warning area including Expressway Route 51.
Some hospital appointments have been cancelled, and Covid-19 testing and vaccination centres in status red and orange counties have also been forced to close due to the storm. A list of the affected health services can be found here. The National Ambulance Service will prioritise emergency calls during this weather event but is urging the general public to think carefully before calling 999/112.
The Courts Service has also confirmed that all sittings in red alert counties have been cancelled.
The Department of Local Government said a large number of national parks and reserves including Killarney National Park and Muckross House would close on Tuesday and Wednesday. Powerscourt Estate in Co Wicklow will close from 8am until 1pm on Tuesday.
Aldi has also said its stores in Cork and Kerry will be closed all day Tuesday, and their Clare stores will shut at 3pm on Tuesday.
Lidl and Tesco stores in Cork and Kerry will also be closed all day.
How long is the storm expected to last?
According to Met Éireann, Storm Barra will gradually clear Ireland later on Wednesday and winds will slowly ease, with a more settled few days to end the week.
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