Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic

Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic
The coronavirus crisis will hit Sardinia particularly hard. The island is famed for its hundreds of kilometers of beaches and for the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) in the north, where ultra-luxury resorts attract tourists from around the world. (Shutterstock)
Short Url
Updated 30 April 2020

Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic

Italy mulls ‘health passport’ to help tourism recover from COVID-19 pandemic
  • Country’s tourist industry set to shrink by over 50 percent in summer 2020
  • The crisis will hit Sardinia particularly hard

ROME: With the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) seriously damaging Italy’s tourism sector for the summer, authorities in Sardinia are reportedly considering implementing a ‘health passport’ for visitors when Phase 2 of the government’s plans to control the spread of the disease come into effect.

The Italian government has imposed the strictest lockdown measures in Europe since March 9, in an attempt to contain an outbreak that has so far killed more than 27,000 people and infected 200,000. Those measures are slowly being eased, with businesses, shops and industry restarting and museums scheduled to reopen on May 18.

The tourism sector accounts for around 15 percent of Italy's GDP — or 270 billion euros per year — and employs 4.2 million people. As in many other Mediterranean countries, tourism is vital to the economy. However, bookings for the coming summer are down by 57 percent, and the sector is not expected to fully recover from the impact of COVID-19 until 2023, according to a study by the National Tourism Agency.

The crisis will hit Sardinia particularly hard. The island is famed for its hundreds of kilometers of beaches and for the Costa Smeralda (Emerald Coast) in the north, where ultra-luxury resorts attract tourists from around the world.

Partly due to its separation from the mainland, the island has so far managed to contain the spread of COVID-19, with just 0.07 percent of the population testing positive for the virus — among the lowest rates of infection in Italy.

Eager to provide a safe holiday environment and to preserve the health of its 1.8 million residents, the regional government of Sardinia is working on a scheme that would require tourists coming to the island to have a document showing that they have tested negative for COVID-19. The laboratory test would have to have been conducted within a week prior to the tourist's arrival.

If the scheme is approved, then when travel to Sardinia is once again permitted — possibly within a few weeks if the easing of the lockdown goes as planned — holidaymakers would have to present their certification before boarding a plane or ferry to the Island. Upon arrival, their temperatures will be checked before they are permitted to enter Sardinia.

“This way we hope to relaunch our tourism sector in June. I just asked the government for a specific protocol which will allow us to demand a health passport from tourists who want to come to Sardinia,” the island's governor, Christian Solinas, told Arab News after a meeting with Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte. “Whoever boards a plane or a ferry will have to show it along with their boarding pass and their identity document. I am sure that it will work fine: we will preserve health and save our economy at the same time. Now everything has to be done to boost tourism: it is the biggest source of income for Sardinia.”

Other islands in Italy, including Capri and Ischia — both off Naples — and Panarea, all popular high-end tourist destinations, are considering similar measures. The mayor of Ischia has also suggested installing multiple floating platforms off beaches: they would allow couples or families to enjoy the sun and sea but remain at a distance from other tourists, maintaining the law on social distancing passed by the government. The 6ft-wide platforms would be equipped with loungers and an umbrella.

The southern region of Puglia, famous for its beaches and small conical houses (trulli), is also considering a similar scheme. None of Italy’s southern regions have been hit hard by the pandemic, in comparison to areas in the north like Lombardy and Veneto. Many governors in the south have asked Rome to restart normal business in phase two of post-lockdown plans, while suggesting measures such as the health passport to prevent a second wave of infections.  

Sicily, where the infection rate has been comparatively low, is also taking action to kick start its tourism. The governor of the biggest island in the Mediterranean has said it may cover half of flight costs and a third of hotel expenses for travelers wishing to visit, as well as offering free tickets to many of its museums and archaeological sites.

“We urgently need clarification on the possibility of traveling within Italy, otherwise operators cannot make plans,” said Giorgio Palmucci, the head of the tourism agency, suggesting that the government should look at signing bilateral accords with neighboring countries — including Austria, Germany and Switzerland — and also with Gulf countries, based on common health protocols, allowing tourists to return to Italy.

“We must have the same protocols and health standards, so that citizens of different countries of the European Union can move quietly”, Tourism Minister Dario Franceschini told Arab News. He said he had already begun talks with Germany, the country from which the largest number of tourists to Italy comes.

The EU has been discussing the idea of a bloc-wide “COVID-19 passport” to help the continent’s tourism sector recover, along with the possibility of opening up “tourist corridors” between states by agreeing common rules and protocols to combat the spread of the virus.


Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
A medical worker inoculates a colleague with a COVID-19 coronavirus vaccine at the north central railway hospital in Allahabad on Friday. (AFP)
Updated 23 January 2021

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive

Safety fears hamper India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive
  • Only half of the government’s target has been inoculated

NEW DELHI: The world’s biggest vaccination drive to inoculate 1.3 billion people against the coronavirus is slowing down in India as concerns over safety fuel vaccine hesitancy, especially among health workers.

Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi launched the campaign on Jan. 16, with 30 million frontline health care workers the first to get the jab. A week into the drive, however, Health Ministry data suggest that on average only 150,000 people have been inoculated a day — half of the government’s target.
“There is a general hesitancy among healthcare workers, particularly doctors, about the efficacy of the vaccines,” Adarsh Pratap Singh, president of the Resident Doctors Association of the premier Delhi-based All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), told Arab News on Friday.
Two coronavirus vaccines have been approved for emergency use in India: the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine produced domestically as Covishield by the Pune-based Serum Institute of India, and a locally developed vaccine called Covaxin, produced by Indian company Bharat Biotech, which is still in its trial stage and has no final data on its efficacy.
“Lack of transparency is at the core of vaccine hesitancy,” Dr. Nirmalya Mohapatra of Delhi-based Ram Manohar Lohia Hospital, told Arab News.
“We doctors should have jointly taken up the issue and asked the government to demonstrate more transparency in introducing the vaccine,” he said.
Mohapatra was one of the doctors who on Jan. 16 refused to take a Covaxin shot at his hospital.
Progressive Medicos and Scientists Forum (PMSF) president, Dr. Harjit Singh Bhattialso, says that the absence of data is fueling “fear about the vaccination” among members of the medical community.
 Concerns also exist about the Covishield vaccine.

FASTFACT

Instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.

“Even there is hesitancy about Covishied. There is no enthusiasm for it. However, people will prefer Covishied over Covaxin,” Bhatti said.
In response to vaccine hesitancy, Health Minister Dr. Harsh Vardhan on Thursday launched an information campaign to address what he said were “rumors and misinformation.”
“We have launched a digital media package with impactful messages from key technical experts from the country who have taken COVID-19 vaccine,” Vardhan told reporters.
The messages, he said, are that “vaccines are safe and efficacious,” and cover the “critical role of vaccines in controlling the pandemic.”
But instead of digital campaigns, some doctors say that Indian leaders themselves should get the jabs to inspire trust in vaccination.
“If the Indian PM Narendra Modi and other political high-ups take the vaccine then it will have a huge impact,” Singh said. “There is a lack of political consensus on vaccines. To inspire confidence all the state chief ministers should also take the shot.”
According to media reports, Modi may get vaccinated in the second phase of the campaign, in March or April, when 270 million people above the age of 50 will be inoculated.
Other health experts argue, however, that vaccinating leaders is not a substitute for scientific processes.
“Leadership taking the vaccine is more of a tokenism than coming out clean on the efficacy and the actual and effective profile of the vaccine,” said Amar Jesani, a Mumbai-based health expert and editor of the Indian Journal of Medical Ethics.
“What is tragic is that our PM might be ready to take the risk of vaccination (but) he is not ready to offend the companies, which are sitting on the data. Why can’t they make the data public? This is what the doctors are asking for,” he told Arab News.
In the absence of scientific data, he argued, people with underlying health problems would be hesitant to get vaccinated when the immunization campaign reaches the general public.
“When you are not transparent today, then tomorrow comorbid people will be hesitant and then the general population will be reluctant,” he said.