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It’s unlikely you’ll see an Italian beach packed with colorful umbrellas this summer.
Government officials say that social distancing practices will likely still be necessary at the beach this summer.
Coronavirus lockdowns in some of Europe’s hardest-hit countries are slowly beginning to ease up. Factory and construction workers in Spain returned to work on Monday, April 13, while some non-essential businesses in Italy, like bookstores, were also allowed to reopen this week despite general containment measures remaining in place until at least May 3. French President Emmanuel Macron said in a national address on Monday that he hopes to reopen schools in France by May 11. Naturally, people are already wondering what this means for their summer vacations, when they leave big cities for the Mediterranean coast.
One tourism minister in Italy believes that a beach vacation will be possible this July and August, even if social distancing practices will still be necessary to prevent outbreaks of COVID-19 from reoccurring.
“We will go to the sea this summer. We are working to make it so,” Lorenza Bonaccorsi, Italy’s undersecretary for tourism, told the Italian newspaper la Repubblica on Monday, April 13.
The president of Italy’s seaside union, Antonio Capacchione, said he believes solutions can be found to maintain social distancing practices—“from the spacing of the umbrellas to the sanitization of the equipment to the medical certification [of the health of beachgoers]”—on typically crowded beaches like popular spots on Capri or the Amalfi Coast. Other precautionary measures could include instituting a mandatory beach chair reservation system, and implementing time slots for different age groups to protect at-risk demographics, the English-language news website the Local reported.
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One company, Nuova Neon Group 2 in northern Italy, has even reimagined the plexiglass barriers it’s been manufacturing for banks and pharmacies to separate people on the beach—a beach cubicle, if you will.
These cubicles are designed to fit two beach chairs and will allow for roughly 215 square feet of space for beachgoers. Owner Claudio Ferrari told la Repubblica that they’ve already received several requests from beach operators.
However, the reactions to the far-fetched idea weren’t entirely positive. One Twitter user responded saying,“I’m sweating just looking at them.” Another wrote, “I can already see people melting inside those 48C plexiglass prisons under the August sun in Sicily.”
Elsewhere in Europe, Spain’s tourism minister Reyes Maroto was a little more cautious when it came to returning to the beach this summer. In an interview printed in the Spanish newspaper el Pais on Sunday, April 12, Maroto said, “It is very important that we continue to follow health recommendations, we must keep up what we are doing now, washing our hands, keeping social distance . . . even on the beach.”
She added, “Until there is a vaccine nothing will be the way it was before. Gatherings will have to have limitations to maintain an adequate safety distance.”
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In France, President Macron announced that all festivals or large events will be put on hold through mid-July, but said nothing specfically about whether beaches will be affected. Other European countries with popular beaches like Greece and Portugal have yet to issue any official statements about extending closures through summer.
Since it’s unclear when Europe’s borders will reopen to international travelers, it’s not even certain that Americans will be able to consider a European beach vacation this summer. However, as the coronavirus pandemic runs its course, countries are taking cues from each others’ actions and seeing what works.
Though the United States has yet to ease up on lockdown orders in heavy-hit cities like New York, officials aren’t ruling out a beach vacation near home. When asked if he thought Americans could return to beaches this summer, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said on CBS This Morning he believed it would be possible. But only “if we do the things that we need to do to prevent the resurgence” and “identify, isolate, contact, trace,” to avoid future spikes.
However, some places in the United States have already made preemptive decisions regarding public beaches. For example, the city of Minneapolis announced in early April that its public beaches and pools will be closed for the summer. While we remain cautiously optimistic about our summer travels, you can also follow Shannon Reed’s humorous tips for recreating your vacation at home if your plans do end up falling through.
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