After 70 days of strict quarantine which allowed people to only leave their homes for urgent reasons, and always with a legally binding signed statement, Italy began to reopen on May 4th.
First, some businesses such as factories were allowed to restart. Other places like eateries we’re finally allowed to open for takeaway. Children were also allowed to leave their homes for the first time in weeks. We celebrated by walking a few blocks to Linari to purchase a much-requested cornetto and cappuccino in a to-go cup.
The government initially said that hairdressers and restaurants wouldn’t be able to receive customers until June 3rd. Suddenly, with just a few days warning, this was moved up. Go ahead and open, with restrictions, on May 18th, came the announcement from Rome.
And the confusion. May 18th became the day that almost all remaining businesses could reopen, but how to do so safely was unclear. The disinfectant protocols, social distancing measures, and required safety products were not at all well defined and some businesses have remained closed rather than risk fines. This left us to imagine what the experience of going out to eat in Italy might really be like in the future.
However, a majority of the businesses which had been shuttered for 2.5 months did open on May 18th (or in the few days following). Italians were ready and Rome quickly felt alive again.
Cultural institutions have been slower to reopen. Some museums, including Gallery Borghese and the Capitoline Museums, we’re ready to open on May 18th to severely limited numbers. Only 80 people are allowed inside Galleria Borghese, for example, instead of the usual 360. This means that reservations are absolutely essential and how to get them varies from site to site. Other landmarks and cultural sites are slated to reopen soon, including the Colosseum (28 May) and the Vatican Museums (1 June). The general theme seems to be: reservations with a dedicated entry time, masks required, temperature checks (some places), smaller numbers, and extended hours.
Other cultural spots like cinemas and theaters will be the last places to reopen. This is currently slated for June 15th, which means they will have been completely shuttered for more than three months in all.
The news that seems to have caught most people off guard was the information about tourism. Interregional travel was allowed from June 3rd. Suddenly, the government announced that international borders would reopen the same day to allow visitors from all EU countries, no quarantine required. This is much sooner than I expected. Non-EU travel could be allowed as soon as July 1st.
So what would it be like to travel to Rome right now? Here’s what reopening in Rome is really like:
Romans are pretty coronavirused out. While it obviously differs from person to person, many Romans are happy to be out of the house. They have rediscovered bikes and are cycling to areas of the city that are normally packed with visitors. Many people are taking walks to the nearly empty Trevi Fountain, or sitting in front of the quiet Pantheon on the weekends.
People are tired. They are tired of the lockdown, tired of the constant bad news and unimaginable loss of life, tired of not knowing what the future will bring, tired of worrying. The mood is definitely less buoyant than normal. The weather is perfect (the high 70s/low 80s F every day since the lockdown has eased) and that helps raise spirits. There is still a lot of fatigue and concern, but also more happiness because we have been allowed to resume some normal activities. We can also see friends, so the sense of isolation is slowly lessening.
Some people are taking full advantage and going out in large groups. Bars are starting to fill up with revelers, and this complicates social distancing.
Others are more cautious, still staying home, not seeing friends. To be honest, we fall mainly into this camp for personal reasons. We want to see how the infection rate continues to change, and feel it is prudent to limit social interactions since we have a newborn at home.
Masks aren’t required (or recommended) for children under 6 years of age. Otherwise, everyone is wearing a mask. People aren’t perfect about it and you will absolutely see some people walking with the mask pulled down under their chin or with their noses out, but for the most part, everyone has one and uses it when needed. Masks are required in all indoor settings and you will not be allowed into shops or eateries without them. Most people wear them walking down the street, and everyone has them on when they stop to chat. The only time they are allowed to be off is when you are seated at your own table at a restaurant.
Masks were impossible to find in Rome for months but they are now widely available. You can find shops selling simple cotton ones, designer worthy washable masks, and disposable masks. The government has taken steps to control the prices so regular surgical masks should be available for 50 cents at pharmacies and I have seen the coveted N95 masks selling in two packs for €6. 6 weeks ago, a single one of those cost me €12.50.
The best mask I saw recently was one that said “Sono Giulia” (I’m Giulia) because, yes, it can be hard to recognize people in masks.
So, if you are coming to Rome soon, expect to wear a mask. Even when it’s not officially required, it’s socially expected.
Gloves and hand gel
As described above, masks are required in indoor public spaces like supermarkets and museums. Many stores where you will be touching merchandise will also require you to wear gloves. If you don’t have gloves, annoying plastic bags will be provided to wear over your hands. In other locations like coffee bars and small stores, there is always hand gel at the entrance and you are expected to use it before entering.
It is now possible to eat out around Italy. All diners must be a meter apart, so this has cut down on the number of tables available. This is obviously cutting into the profitability of food establishments around the country because the number of people they can accommodate is much lower than normal. One plus, there are more outdoor tables than ever before because the regulations on where tables can be placed on the sidewalks and streets have been relaxed. Because seating is limited, reservations are recommended – here’s how to make one.
When eating out, you have to wear a mask whenever you interact with wait staff or whenever you leave your table (for example, to go to the bathroom). Staff wear masks at all times. You need to limit the times you leave your table, and so the bill is to be paid while seated there rather than at the cash register.
Most restaurants are now using printed and posted or electronic menus to limit the shared surfaces you touch. You use your phone camera to scan a QR code and the menu is displayed on your personal device.
Finally, be prepared to leave your name and phone number. This is for potential contact tracing, if needed, in the future.
If you aren’t comfortable dining in, many restaurants have started delivery services.
Most retail locations are now reopen (unless they made a personal decision not to). In smaller shops, sometimes only one customer is allowed at a time. In other stores, you are asked to wear gloves. I personally have only shopped for children’s clothes since the lockdown ended so I am not sure of the rule about trying things on in dressing rooms.
The nightlife is something that worries me the most because this is where masks and social distancing seem to go out the window. They are technically required – the same as at restaurants – but seem to be rarely used. Drinking and masks don’t go well together for multiple reasons. Nightclubs are still closed, but everything else (bars, etc) are allowed to open.
Parks and Gardens
Most parks and gardens are now open. Playgrounds remain closed, however, and picnics are banned. Here are the new rules:
Tourist sites and Museums
Many museums and major sites are starting to open in Italy. For example, the Colosseum is now open and the Vatican Museums are also reopened. Masks are required at all times, and many places are also scanning your body temperature. Anyone with a temperature of 37.5C or higher will not be allowed inside.
The number of people allowed in at any one time is very limited. For the Vatican and the Colosseum, groups of 14-15 people are admitted every 15 minutes. Both also require prebooking and you should expect this to be the norm for awhile. Socially distanced lines would be a nightmare, so be ready to go online for your tickets.
Public transportation and taxis
The number of people allowed on public transportation is extremely limited. This seems to be causing headaches for some commuters. While working from home has been encouraged, the reopening of businesses necessarily means that more people are getting out and back into their shops and offices. Using the metro seems to be the most complicated, with videos of long lines outside stations starting to surface online. For buses, riders must enter at the back door and exit through the middle doors (the front door never opens). Buses are running but are not allowed to be even half full so this may lead to delays using them.
Taxis are still operating. Many have installed plastic between the front and back seats but this is not required. One taxi driver did tell me that they are not sure AC will be allowed this summer.
Most hotels are still closed around Rome. Some are starting to reopen their rooftop bars or dining options. It remains unclear (at least to me) what measures they will have to take to ensure safety on the properties. Buffet breakfasts are definitely gone but announced changes to cleaning procedures etc have yet to be seen.
For those in Rome: are there other changes with the reopening that you have noticed?
For those outside Italy: would you be willing to travel here given the new normal? I’m curious to know if travelers would be willing to use the masks and gloves, and follow to distancing rules.