M.A. in Political Science, European Union Policy Studies

COVID-19 Update from Florence


 
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By Malik Smith

As the first European country to be struck by Covid-19, Italy has been through so much since early 2020. The spread of Covid-19 forced Italian residents back into their homes and closed national borders to international tourism and travel. From lockdowns, curfews, and travel restrictions, Florence has managed to overcome the worst of the Covid-19 pandemic in the last year and a half. 

Back in the “White Zone”, the city has seen a slow return to normalcy and the resurgence of recreational travel and tourism. International travelers can once again stroll up and down the Ponte Vecchio, one of the city’s most popular attractions turned ghost town during the height of the pandemic. According to Italy’s national statistics agency, ISTAT, foreign tourism in Italy dropped by 68.6% over 2020, with even higher drops registered in its most foreign attractive cities: Florence, Rome, and Venice. Previous travel restrictions have caused thousands of euros in economic losses for the tourism industry in Florence and the city is looking to the future to regain what was lost. With the continued reduction in Covid-19 cases, and adherence to health and safety regulations the city can be hopeful of a return to pre-pandemic tourism levels. 

However, with the rise in Covid-19 variants and new cases of the virus, the city of Florence has many measures in place to prevent more spikes in cases. Firstly, travelers who seek to come to Italy must fill out the Passenger Locator Form (PLF) before entering the country. The PLF form allows public health authorities to facilitate contact tracing in case travelers are potentially exposed to Covid-19 or other infectious diseases during their travel to the country. The information that travelers provide on their forms can be used by public health authorities to rapidly contact travelers and prevent future disease spread. 

Across the city of Florence, masks must be worn at all times inside buildings or on public transportation (the outdoor mask mandate has now been lifted). Social distancing restrictions remain in place, including on public transport. Only on high-speed trains are travelers not subject to social distancing rules as anyone accessing them must have proof of vaccination.

As of September 1st, Italy enforced the EU Digital Covid Certificate which allows all fully vaccinated travelers to move freely within Italy and the wider Schengen area. This certificate serves as a digital contactless means to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination, negative test results, or even Covid-19 recovery. One must present the EU Digital Covid Certificate, “Certificazione Verde”, or “Green Pass” on arrival to the country, with non-EU citizens able to present Covid-19 Certificates issued by the health authorities of their home country. To help minimize the potential spread of the virus, this proof of vaccination is needed in Florence to allow the fully vaccinated in restaurants, museums, theaters, and other public spaces. 

The four vaccines that qualify Italians for the “Green Pass” are:

  1. Comirnaty/ Pfizer-BioNtech     
  2. Spikevax/ Moderna     
  3. Vaxzevria/ Astra-Zenica     
  4. Janssen (Johnson & Johnson) 

The Italian government reached its target of fully vaccinating 80% of the population over the age of 12 on October 9th. Even after reaching this goal, the Italian government remained committed to vaccinating more citizens and on October 15th, made the Green Pass mandatory for all workers, in both the public and private sectors. This led to over 1 million green passes downloaded within 24 hours of its establishment. Violation of this new workers’ policy can result in fines or suspension without pay. 

Currently, a number of countries and cities across Europe are battling an incoming “fourth wave” of the Covid-19 virus. Over the last few months European countries have experienced a rise in cases, most notably in countries with the lowest vaccination rates. In contrast, Italy is recording transmission rates lower on average than others in the EU. The country’s situation remains stable under the current health and safety guidelines because of the high vaccination rates, the Green Pass protocols for indoor spaces, and, more recently, the initial launch of a booster-shot program. As of Monday, November 8th, 83.5 percent of the population above the age of 12 has been fully vaccinated. Booster shots are currently offered only to health workers, the immunocompromised, and people over the age of 60.

Even with the fourth wave, the Italian government is unlikely to reintroduce lockdowns or travel restrictions similar to those seen when Italy was in the red zone last Christmas. In the short term they will likely make a few changes to keep new Covid-19 cases low and relatively stable. Next month we could likely see a booster shot or third dose of the anti-covid vaccines be mandatory for all healthcare workers, doctors, and nurses as they were the first required to be vaccinated back in April this year. In general, Italian health authorities will speed up the rollout of third doses available to the public with the Italian Minister of Health, Roberto Speranza, announcing they will soon be available to people over the age of 40. We will also potentially see the validity of the Italian Green Pass change from 12 months to nine months for those vaccinated, including a third dose. Changing the expiry date will ensure vaccines are up to date with the Covid-19 variants that have surfaced across Europe. 2.1 million people or 35.4 percent of eligible citizens have already received the third dose. Accelerating the campaign to encourage booster shots is the only way to ensure the health and safety of Italian citizens, especially during the holiday season. 

Malik Smith is an EUPS student pursuing the Economic and Social Policy track and is the EUPS program’s Social Media and Website Graduate Assistant. Last May, Malik graduated from JMU with his Bachelor of Arts in International Affairs with a concentration in international conflict and security and minors in French and Music Industry. After finishing the EUPS program, Malik aspries to work in international development and with human rights organizations, as well as casually pursuing a career in music.

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Published: Tuesday, November 23, 2021

Last Updated: Monday, November 29, 2021

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