Venice is reopening.
After ten weeks of lockdown, the city is going back to a semblance of normalcy as restrictions are being lifted progressively.
We are now allowed to move freely within the confines of the Veneto region.
This new-found freedom is a most welcome change as everybody here still remembers, vividly, the days when all types of physical activity -including walking- was limited to 200 meters from home, and when any other movement had to be substantiated by an essential or urgent reason.
Now, shops, bars, restaurants, hair-dressers, and a number of small businesses are reopening, and so are churches, gyms, parks, museums, libraries, and many other places too- providing that they can guarantee the respect of social distancing.
This return of activity makes life look almost like normal, except for the mask we are all wearing, the new norms we are following, and the emptier than usual streets and bank accounts.
The central government of Italy has granted regions with the power to enforce stricter rules on their territory. While most of the people who have been spending this unprecedented time in Italy are walking around barefaced, here in Venice and its region, wearing a mask at all times, outside of intense physical exercise, remains compulsory.
Thankfully, though, the health emergency took away relatively few people in the city, and the local death toll remains low. There was, of course, a few weeks, where the curtain of silence was frequently broken by the sirens of the ambulances rushing patients to the hospital and by the engine of helicopters patrolling the city and casting an Orwellian shadow on daily life.
Today, the number of current active cases reported at the local hospital is 0. However, although Venice, the place that invented quarantine, seems to be winning its fight against the virus, many people remain worried.
The city, indeed, suffers from another creeping pandemic.
In the past 30 years, mass tourism has been infecting Venice in an increasingly severe way. It redefined its socio-economic tissue, displacing its residents, and making the city almost entirely dependent on the visitor economy.
This is a phenomenon we know well, my partner and I, as we made our mission to halt it and are at the frontline of the transformation of the impact of tourism. Through Venezia Autentica, our social enterprise, indeed, we make it easy and fun for travelers to support local businesses such as family-owned restaurants and artisans workshops.
These small businesses – who were already struggling before covid19 -are the ones who suffer the most from the economic consequences of the pandemic. In fact, they depend on -responsible – international tourism for their survival, and the sector has been close to a standstill for months, starting even before lockdown, amid last winter’s exceptional floodings.
When we speak with business owners lately, a shared sentiment is palpable: the fear that many won’t last long and will have to draw the curtains, permanently.
An epidemic of bankruptcies would be another blow to an already struggling community as, without exceptional measures, more people would be displaced, and the local heritage and identity would keep on eroding.
The beautiful parts of life in Venice are enhanced by the light of the sun in our clear sky, the decreased water traffic, and the disappearance of clogged streets. It feels refreshing not to have to prick our ears to hear people speak Italian and Venetian or to seek the right moment and space to spot children playing. It warms the heart to listen to the stories of solidarity and witness the strength and resilience of Venetians.
Now that we are learning to live with the virus, we will need to focus on recovery. It will be hard.
There might be a silver lining, however.
As absurd as it is, the socio-economic impact of COVID19 might well be the wake-up call we needed to finally acknowledge the profound challenges Venice is facing and come together to co-create a more sustainable and inclusive future for the city.
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