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)
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Updated 30 April 2020

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.

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

Updated 12 July 2020

Over 200,000 vote in Hong Kong’s pro-democracy primaries

  • Exercise being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory

HONG KONG: Hundreds of thousands of Hong Kongers turned up over the weekend to vote in an unofficial two-day primary election held by the city’s pro-democracy camp as it gears up to field candidates for an upcoming legislative poll.
The exercise is being held two weeks after Beijing imposed a sweeping national security law on the semi-autonomous territory in a move widely seen as chipping away at the “one country, two systems” framework under which Britain handed Hong Kong over to China in 1997. It was passed in response to last year’s massive protests calling for greater democracy and more police accountability.
Throngs of people lined up at polling booths in the summer heat to cast their vote despite a warning by Hong Kong’s constitutional affairs minister, Eric Tsang last week that the primaries could be in breach of the new national security law, because it outlaws interference and disruption of duties by the local government.
Organizers have dismissed the comments, saying they just want to hold the government accountable by gaining a majority in the legislature.
The legislation prohibits what Beijing views as secessionist, subversive or terrorist activities or as foreign intervention in Hong Kong affairs. Under the law, police now have sweeping powers to conduct searches without warrants and order Internet service providers and platforms to remove messages deemed to be in violation of the legislation.
On Friday, police raided the office of the Public Opinion Research Institute, a co-organizer of the primary elections. The computer system was suspected of being hacked, causing a data leak, police said in a statement, and an investigation is ongoing.
Hong Kong’s pro-democracy camp, which includes multiple parties, is attempting to join forces and use the primaries as a guide to field the best candidates in the official legislative election in September. Its goal is to win a majority in the legislature, which is typically skewed toward the pro-Beijing camp.
To hold the primary elections, pro-democracy activists had raised money via crowd funding. They pledged to veto the government’s budget if they clinch a majority in the legislature. Under the Basic Law, under which Hong Kong is governed, city leader Carrie Lam must resign if an important bill such as the budget is vetoed twice.
On Saturday alone, nearly 230,000 people voted at polling booths set up across the city, exceeding organizers’ estimates of a 170,000 turnout over the weekend.