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If you have Venice to yourself

Dhe train to Naples leaves Santa Lucia station in Venice at 7:26 a.m. There are hardly any passengers in the compartments of the “Frecciarossa” high-speed train. That is always the case at this time, says the friendly train attendant, and it only gets really crowded in Padua and Bologna. She has never heard of restrictions on travel or controls. It assumes that the train will arrive in Naples around 1 p.m.

Matthias Rüb

Matthias Rüb

Political correspondent for Italy, the Vatican, Albania and Malta based in Rome.

Venice has been a restricted area since Sunday, along with two other provinces in the Veneto region. “Any change of location of natural persons, entry and exit as well as movement within the area must be avoided”. So it says in the decree that Prime Minister Giuseppe Conte issued on Sunday night. Exceptions are only permitted for “proven work obligations, on necessary occasions and for health reasons”.

After the decree, with drastic restrictions on the freedom of movement for a good 16 million Italians in the north and in the middle of the country, was practically not adhered to on the chaotic first day of its validity, the government in Rome submitted a threat on Monday: Anyone who violated the regulations had to expect a fine of 206 euros and imprisonment of up to three months.

The necessary exemptions are issued in the event of personal checks by the security forces on the spot. The government has published a form for this purpose, which is distributed to the officials. In it, the traveler gives his personal details and self-information about the reason for his delayed journey – and can continue. It is not a worthless piece of paper. Anyone found to have given false information will be punished. See above.

The President of the Veneto Region, Luca Zaia, confirmed on Monday his criticism of the “scientifically disproportionate” decree for the three provinces of Padua, Treviso and Venice. “Veneto will not be isolated,” assured Zaia and demanded that the decree be revised accordingly. Zaia argues that, unlike in the Lombardy region, which is completely closed, the three foci of infection in Veneto, with a total of 623 infected, are clearly geographically limited. The epidemic affected a manageable group of people, the majority of whom were medical personnel under home quarantine. In the former “red zone” in the area around Vo Euganeo, which had been fully quarantined on February 23 and reopened on Sunday, the proportion of coronavirus infections in relation to the 3500 tests carried out was 3 percent has now dropped to 0.05 percent. “We cannot allow people to talk about Italy like the Chinese province of Wuhan,” Zaia told a television broadcaster.

It remains to be seen whether the regional president – who belongs to the right-wing nationalist Lega led by former Interior Minister Matteo Salvini – will refuse to enforce the provisions of the decree in his region. Venice’s mayor Luigi Brugnaro also criticized the decree, but enforced its provisions – the closing of museums, theaters and cinemas as well as the cancellation of public events by April 3 – on Monday. The city has systematically disinfected all public transport in recent days, the risk of infection is low for residents and visitors alike. According to the decree, cruise ship passengers have not been allowed to disembark since Sunday to visit the lagoon city. Only transit for an immediate return home on land is permitted.

On Monday, Venice was bathed in milky sunlight. Buses and vaporettos (water buses) run on schedule. Craftsmen and employees get off the suburban trains. You can get a seat anywhere, even with the recommended “virus distance” of at least one meter. No one wears breathing masks. The ferries and barges run in the Giudeca Canal. Vaporettos and a few water taxis chug through the Grand Canal. There are no gondolas.

“We almost had the city to ourselves”

People walk towards a destination over the Rialto Bridge, nobody takes a selfie. Even the pigeons flew away from the incredibly empty St. Mark’s Square. In the early morning, two street vendors set up their stands for scarves, sunglasses and T-shirts with a moody print. Neither expects a lot of customers, but you have to start something with your day, they say.

There is no human soul in St. Mark’s Basilica either. It is closed to visitors, but if you say you come to pray, you can of course go into the church. Almost all shops are closed, chairs and tables are stacked on top of each other in most cafés and restaurants. You have to search longer for an open café where you can get cappuccino and cornetto.

Two very British tourists from Newcastle pull their red trolleys over the pavement. They take the last photos, their flight should go in the afternoon. They booked the weekend in Venice months ago. They liked it a lot. “We almost had the city to ourselves,” says the woman. Nobody has told them yet that they will have to go into quarantine at home for two weeks after their return from the “restricted area” Venice at home in England. “Really?”


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