Italy has announced it will reopen to tourists from early June and scrap its 14-day mandatory quarantine period.
Italian Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte enforced an economically-crippling shutdown in early March to slow the spread of the global coronavirus pandemic, which official records show has killed over 31,500 people in the country.
The shutdown has effectively ended all holidaymaking in a country heavily dependent on the tourism industry.
Although Italy never formally closed its borders, and has allowed people to cross back and forth for work or health reasons, it banned movement for tourism and imposed a two-week isolation period for new arrivals.
But from June 3, all visitors will be allowed back into the country and will no longer be obliged to self-isolate.
Italians will also be able to move between regions, though local authorities can limit travel in specific areas if infection numbers spike.
Movements to and from abroad can be limited by regional decree “in relation to specific states and territories, in accordance with the principles of adequacy and proportionality to the epidemiological risk,” the government said.
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ITALIAN SHOPS, BEACHES TO REOPEN
The peak of Italy’s contagion passed at the end of March, but with officials warning a second wave cannot be ruled out, Mr Conte has been reluctant to lift the lockdown quickly.
His softly-softly approach has frustrated many of Italy’s regions, with some going ahead and opening everything from restaurants to beaches early.
Italy’s restaurants, bars and hairdressers will be allowed to reopen on Monday, two weeks earlier than initially planned. Shops will also open and Italians will finally be able to see friends, as long as they live within their same region.
Church masses will begin again, but the faithful will have to follow social distancing rules and holy water fonts will be empty. Italy’s mosques will also reopen.
‘BALTIC’ TRAVEL BUBBLE OPENS
Meanwhile, Europe’s first “travel bubble” between Estonia, Latvia and Lithuania opened on Friday.
The Baltic States have reopened their shared borders, allowing citizens to move freely for business and pleasure after two months of coronavirus restrictions.
The sister countries, which are members of the European Union and the passport-free Schengen zone, had been closed since mid-March to all traffic except commercial cargo and returning citizens.
Their borders with Belarus and Russia remain sealed however, with military patrols reinforcing regular guards.
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“Because of the discipline, because of the dedicated work, we are reaching the point where we can open up our travel, internal Baltic travel, we can open up our borders,” said Latvia’s foreign minister, Edgars Rinkevics.
“The Baltic travel bubble means that we will have a secure zone of movement,” Estonia’s foreign minister, Urmas Reinsalu, said.
HOTEL RESERVATIONS AND ICE-CREAM
Janis Pinnis, the head of Latvia’s hospitality association, said hotel reservations were already rolling in.
“The reopening of Baltic borders is an important milestone. Hotels and restaurants are looking forward with renewed hope,” he said.
“We’re already seeing the first reservations come in,” he told public broadcaster Latvijas Radio.
Ticket sales for international bus travel between Baltic cities are back up and running, while flights between the countries are expected to resume at the end of the month.
Also happy to see borders reopen are Latvia’s “alco supermarkets” which have sprung up in recent years to cater to Estonians and Lithuanians crossing over for cheaper, lower-taxed alcohol.
“Let’s hope that reopening the borders brings back our neighbours, starting today,” said the cashier at the Alko 1000 Market warehouse, just a short distance from the border in the Latvian village of Grenctale.
Over the last couple months, “only locals had been coming in. Our liquor store’s income has gone down tenfold,” she told AFP.
Before the time of coronavirus, Estonians had enjoyed going over to Latvia for dessert.
“Cross-border shopping was very popular before COVID-19. Our border town of Rujiena was full of Estonians on weekends. They love our ice cream,” said Ilona Dukure, editor of the Latvian regional weekly Rujienas Vestnesis.
“However, people on this side of the border are concerned that Estonia’s epidemic is a bit worse than ours,” she told AFP.
To date 19 people have died from coronavirus in Latvia, a country of 1.9 million people. Estonia has a lower population of 1.3 million but a higher death toll of 63, while Lithuania has reported 54 fatalities out of population of 2.8 million Not all the Baltic border posts are yet up and running.
– With wires