Italy welcomes back British and EU travellers in attempt to revive key tourism industry

Nick Squires
A man walks by the Italian flag displayed on a building in Naples, Italy - Ivan Romano/Getty Images

Italy has reopened its borders to British and other European tourists after a three-month lockdown in which more than 33,500 people lost their lives to coronavirus.

As of Wednesday, visitors from the UK and the EU will not have to endure a 14-day quarantine when they arrive.

That made Italy the first European country to fully reopen its borders, just as Britain is poised to impose quarantine requirements on arrivals.

A ban on traveling between Italy’s 20 regions was also lifted – since early March it had been prohibited unless for urgent work or health reasons. Families were looking forward to being reunited after three months of forced separation.

“We did it, with the sacrifice of everyone,” said Francesco Boccia, the minister for regional affairs.

Like all countries hit by the virus, Italy has had to weigh up the dangers of opening up too early and triggering new infections, against the necessity of trying to resuscitate a shattered economy.

The national government overruled the objections of some regions, Tuscany and Campania among them, which are worried about new infections being carried by tourists from Lombardy, Veneto and the other northern regions that were badly hit by Covid-19.

“Right now, it’s a disaster. I can’t afford to pay my normal staff because we’re doing so little business,” said Maria, the owner of a trattoria in Trastevere, a neighbourhood of cobbled alleyways and ochre-coloured houses in Rome.

“We just hope the tourists start returning in the next week or 10 days. But I wonder if they have the will, both psychologically and economically, to come here.”

The virus has by no means been vanquished in Italy – on Tuesday there were another 55 deaths and more than 300 new cases. On Monday, there were 60 deaths.

While 160,000 people have recovered from the virus, 40,000 are still infected.

Tourists who come to Il Bel Paese will find much to occupy them – in the last few days, some of the country’s most famous attractions have reopened, including the Vatican Museums and the Colosseum in Rome, the Leaning Tower of Pisa and dozens of world-class museums and art galleries around the country.

A landmark exhibition in Rome of 120 Raphael works, which had to close after just a few days due to the lockdown, has reopened. The exhibition has been extended until the end of August.

A photo taken by a drone shows people wearing face masks and taking part in a flash mob in front of the Leaning Tower of Pisa on May 30, 2020 - Getty

The ancient Roman town of Pompeii, which was buried by the eruption of Mt Vesuvius in AD 79, reopened to visitors last week.

With Italy facing a predicted 10% contraction of its economy, the government is desperate to restart tourism, which accounts for 13% of GDP.

“This is a very important day because from today Italians can move freely around the country again,” said Luigi Di Maio, the foreign minister.

“This is an important message of reassurance that we offer to the whole world. The complete opening up of the country allows us to show to other countries an Italy that is united and solid.”

But it is not clear when tourists will start to arrive in significant numbers.

Rome’s main airport, Leonardo da Vinci, handled just a few thousand travelers on Wednesday, compared to 110,000 passengers this time last year.

While the regions have opened up their borders, some did so reluctantly because they fear the arrival of infected outsiders and will impose rules on new arrivals.

A child visits the ancient Roman city of Herculaneum, destroyed in 79AD by the eruption of Vesuvius, on the day of the reopening of the archaeological park in Ercolano, Italy - Ivan Romano/Getty Images

Sardinia will require tourists from the mainland of Italy to fill out a form which will enable the authorities to trace their movements, for instance.

While northern Italy was the epicentre of the pandemic, many other regions were only lightly affected and several, including Puglia, Umbria, Calabria, Molise and Sardinia – are now recording no new infections.

Passengers using Italy’s high-speed train network will have their temperature checked with scanners. Anyone with a temperature of more than 37.5C will not be allowed to board.

While shops, bars and restaurants have been open since May 18, cinemas and theatres will have to wait until June 15.

The vast majority of people in cities like Milan and Rome wear face masks when they leave their homes, and there are social distancing protocols in shops, restaurants and offices.

Hand sanitizing gel is provided everywhere and long queues have become a wearily familiar part of daily life.