Good morning everyone on Thursday 11th March. It's certainly been a gloomy period in terms of reporting on the Italian Coronavirus pandemic over the past 6 weeks or so but it looks like we finally have a significant, positive development, which I'll get to in a moment.
The Covid-19 virus has been waging its war on the country with extra venom recently and continued its upward surge with 22,409 new cases reported yesterday. That was an increase of around 2,500 from the day before and 1,500 from the equivalent day the previous week. So despite the current restrictions that are in place, the virus is spreading faster and further restrictions will need to be imposed.
It has been suggested that the system of colour-coded regions with their own sets of restrictions may be scrapped for a nationwide system in which the rules are the same everywhere. I would be surprised if that happened any time soon though, especially when you consider Sardinia recently moved into the white/light restriction zone while the likes of Campania turned red and into much tighter curbs; how would it work if they both had the same restrictions suddenly? There will be some changes, perhaps in the next 24 hours but I suspect they will be a little more gradual.
Those last two paragraphs outline the general negative direction we've been heading in for the last month but by the end of March, we may well be, finally on the road out of this. The Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza has announced that Italy will receive 50 million jabs in the second quarter of this year, followed by a further 30 million in the third quarter. Just under 6 million people have already received their first jab out of Italy's total population of around 60 million, of which there are around 50 million adults. This leaves around 44 million adults awaiting their first jab.
With those supplies expected to arrive at the beginning of April, preparations are already underway to overhaul the vaccination program in order to achieve the aim of vaccinating the entire adult population by the end of June, at least with a first dose. Huge vaccination centres are being established at places like football stadiums, shopping centre car parks and other large public spaces. Yesterday I mused that by stating the aim of inoculating every Italian by the end of June, the authorities must have known something we didn't and Speranza's statement seems to bear that out. Up until now, the vaccination rollout in Italy has centred around health workers and others at risk through their jobs. The Health Minister added that the level of contagion among those who have been vaccinated has "collapsed".
I've written the above with the knowledge of some worrying news coming out of Denmark about the Astra Zeneca vaccine this morning but there doesn't seem to be any firm evidence that the side-effects were caused by the jab. I saw a figure of 22 serious side-effects being reported from a total of 5 million people in the EU that have been vaccinated and even with those small numbers, it's not clear if the vaccine itself was directly responsible.
Italy will now plough ahead with its vaccination program in a slightly different way than it has up to this point. Priority will now be based on age and those most at risk due to ongoing health problems, very similar in fact to the way the rollout has happened in the UK.
It's a sunny day today in most of Italy; usual suspect Turin is propping up the table with the lowest temperature of 7° Celsius while Catania in Sicily continues to lead the way with 17° C. These are fairly average numbers for this time of year but we should see things warm up significantly from April onwards.
Today's spotlight falls on the northern city of Verona. Sandwiched between Lake Garda to its west and Venice to its east (that's a pretty tasty sandwich!), Verona is one of the jewels of the Veneto region. It's one of Italy's most historic cities where you'll find ancient landmarks such as the Verona Arena, second perhaps only to Rome's Colosseum in terms of Roman monuments on the Italian peninsula.
The River Adige, the country's second longest river behind the River Po, gracefully flows through Verona and is crossed by two landmark bridges. The oldest of those is the Ponte Pietra (literally "Stone Bridge"), another Roman structure built in 100 BC while arguably more iconic is the Castelvecchio Bridge, also known as the Ponte Scaligero after the famous family that once ruled the city. This bridge in many ways resembles a fortress because of its crenellations and turrets which see it as an extension of the city's castle: the Castelvecchio.
Those crenellations, the battlements on top of the bridge, lead us nicely into the story that Verona is most famous for these days. There are two types of crenellation most commonly-used in Italy and believe it or not, they have a heavy political significance. The swallow tail crenellations of the Castelvecchio Bridge, as opposed to the flat crenellations of other structures, tell us that it was built by Ghibelline sympathisers.
The story of the Guelphs (sympathisers for the pope) and Ghibellines (favouring the Holy Roman Empire) is hugely important in Italian history as it divided the peninsula throughout the Middle Ages and the Renaissance. You can run a search to see which city supported which faction, and in Verona's case, it was one that was split between the two. The backdrop to Shakespeare's Romeo and Juliet, set in Verona, was the warring factions of the Montagues (Ghibellines) and Capulets (Guelphs) which saw the two lovers on opposing sides of the political spectrum.
Fictitious though Shakespeare's story may be, it has captured the hearts of the world's lovers since it was written at the end of the 16th century. In Verona you can visit places such as the House of Juliet (Casa di Giulietta), where of course you'll find the balcony from whence she sought out her paramour, or indeed Romeo's house just a short walk away. There's even a museum where you can visit Juliet's final resting place (Juliet's Tomb and Frescoes Museum) and such is the legend that surrounds it, that one can momentarily forget it isn't real.
Away from the references to Romeo and Juliet, Verona has much more to offer with beautiful squares such as Piazza Bra, Piazza delle Erbe and Piazza dei Signori where a statue of Italian poet Dante takes centre-stage. The city can be viewed as a whole from some wonderful vantage points including the Torre dei Lamberti or from the hillside area of Castel San Pietro which can be reached by funicular railway.
Well that's all from me for this morning. I'll be back tomorrow with another blog and a look at somewhere else in the country. This afternoon I'll post the latest Coronavirus figures both on the website and the newly-set-up Twitter page. I'm not expecting a reduction in the numbers but I would urge you all to think ahead, to May and beyond when the situation should be greatly improved.
For those of you following on Facebook, thank you so much for all your likes and positive comments, it's great to know these updates are of use to some of you and I hope they also provide some travel ideas for future trips to Italy.
Have a great day.
My name is Dion Protani, founder of Italy Review. The Italy Review blog is designed to provide ideas and inspiration to visit places in Italy you might not have heard about, as well those you have.