We are the first tourist region in Italy with a 17-billion turnover and 70 millions of visitors every year
Dear President Zaia, who would imagine, just a few months ago, that you would have had to deal with such an extensive epidemic?
Certainly nobody. And the same goes for everyone else in the world. On the very day when a phone call warned me about the first two cases in Veneto, I immediately understood that we were going to face an epoch-changing event. I rushed to the Ulss office in Padua and, in a few hours, I was able to face the drama in the best way possible, thanks to a bit of luck and the great support of science. When I decided to test all the citizens of Vo’ (and to completely isolate the town), half of the world, including the scientific institutions of reference of the government, disagreed. That was the starting point. Since then, much has been done, but much more awaits us. Then, came professor Crisanti, with his far-sighted advice, which I immediately accepted, to test all the citizens of Vo’ a second time, turning the town into a scientific laboratory that has no equal in the world.
Social isolation and large-scale tests – the measures you adopted to contain the spread of Covid-19 – were recognized by the world as the model to reduce the spreading of Covid-19.
If this is true, I am very happy, not for myself, but for having been able to make a valuable contribution to the fight against this unknown monster. Since when I took the difficult decision to completely isolate the breeding ground of Vo’ Euganeo and to start testing all its citizens, the situation has improved a lot. As far as possible, contagion has been contained and hospital facilities have succeeded in coping with the impact, also thanks to the decision to double the number of critical care beds, which went from about 450 to about 900. But the real breakthrough was testing as many people as possible (as of now, we have made almost 400k tests), thanks to which we “discovered” asymptomatic people who, if they continued to move, would have spread the virus infecting, on average, about ten people each. That being said, it should be stressed that we have not defeated the virus yet. It is still there; we are starting to know it, day by day, but I think we will have to live with it for a long time. That is why I am for restarting activities in an aware way, complying with fixed rules such as social distancing and the use of masks and disinfectants; after two months of lock down, people suffers on the psychological level and economy is paralyzed. We do not ask the State for economic aids or welfare payments. We simply ask to resume working, complying with all the health rules that are necessary to avoid the spreading of the virus.
The search for asymptomatic people proved very useful to limit the spreading of the virus
You made strong and painful decisions, from the timely suppression of the Carnival in Venice to the complete lockdown of the town of Vo’ Euganeo.
Stopping a planetary event such as the Venice Carnival was a painful decision, but we made it because we had already understood how dangerous it is to have large gatherings of people, as this helps the virus spread. Maybe we saved some lives! Vo’ is a different story; I had the support of our scientists and that was enough for me. We should thank the people of Vo’, who did what we asked them with a great sense of civility.
Many people acknowledged your courage and sense of responsibility.
If it is true, it makes me very happy. However, please believe me: I share this feeling with all the people of Veneto, who acted like heroes, from our good mayors to our scientists, from the Universities of Padua and Verona to hospitals, from the police officers who ensured peace and the respect of the rules to the thousands of people who work in hospitals and offer essential service; they really did the best they could in a very humane way. Without them, we could never make it.
A key figure: how many victims did such drastic choices save?
In this moment, we cannot know it. Perhaps, they are thousands. Let me give you an example: when we tested the people of Vo’ for the first time, 66 people tested positive without showing any symptom. At that time, we thought that an asymptomatic person could infect about 10 people. Doing the math, it turns out that those 66 people would soon become 660, and then 6,600, and then 66,000, and then 660,000. Of course, this is just a hypothesis and these numbers are not scientific.
Let’s move from health to economy: can you take stock of the damages the epidemics caused to the region and of the projects for the recovery?
I am extremely worried. The latest national Council of Ministers Presidential Decree gives no certainties to some vital sectors of our economy, such as tourism and trade. I say this once again – I think we should learn to live together with the virus, applying strict but reasonable rules such as social distancing, masks and disinfection, in companies as well as in society at large. If we wait for zero contagion, our economy will die and the ensuing crisis will risk causing more deaths and suffering than the virus itself. Veneto produces 150 billion euros of GDP per year and Lombardy produces 37% of the national GDP. The recession of Veneto would actually be the recession of the whole country. The losses? They already amount to billions of euros. And the people, from small entrepreneurs to craftsmen and traders, are beginning to take to the streets. They do it in a civil and respectful way. I side with them, because this means the future of the whole Veneto. We need clear prevention and protection rules and clear dates, those who do not comply should be punished, but we need to reopen, and to do it soon. Veneto is ready; we have clear and rigorous guidelines to restart companies and reopen ordinary hospital activities; we have a refined system of prevention and diagnosis that is based not on one, but on three pillars: swabs, rapid kits and serological tests with blood sampling. I think tomorrow we could reopen everything. However, we are not rebels, so we will continue cooperating with the national government with loyalty, which also means saying it when we do not agree with something and proposing alternatives.
The president has a clear idea of how to take off again, “let’s start again, but with strict rules”
Let’s talk about Venice, an ancient city that is open to the present world in everything, including the arts sector. It is the centre of prestigious international events, biennials and important institutions such as Museo Correr, Palazzo Grassi and the Guggenheim Collection. How will we get visitors and exhibitors back?
Venice is the tourist city par excellence, but this is only the tip of the iceberg. Tourism is going to suffer a huge slowdown all over the world. For Veneto, which is the first tourist region in Italy with a 17 billion turnover and 70 million visitors every year, this is going to be a serious problem. Certainly, we should increase domestic tourism. However, I believe we also need a large international information campaign that will be able to face inevitable disturbance actions by unprincipled competitors. I am speaking for my Veneto: we are arranging to receive tourists with our usual high-quality services and hospitality, to which we are going to add a number of prevention measures, social distancing, sanitation and a new organization, in order to make people’s holidays as enjoyable as before, but safe from the perspective of health protection. Veneto is the land of tourism par excellence and Venetian tour operators know what to do and how to do it very well.
Every event in the lagoon began and ended with a party: lavish receptions in the palaces on the Grand Canal, cheerful and noisy groups of artists, gallerists and critics visiting the bacari. Should we quit all this?
For now, yes, we should. However, if we continue doing things right, everything will come back. And we will probably have learned to appreciate it even more.
Perhaps, it will be our chance to look more carefully at works of art, instead of the outfits of gentlemen and ladies.
Let me make a joke: the works of art and architecture of Veneto are famous all over the world and Veneto, alone, has more works than the whole of France. So, I do not think they should fear the competition of outfits, either female or male.
Finally, President, let me ask you a more private question; how do you feel when you walk around such a deserted Venice?
It hurts really bad. But it also urges me to make all the possible efforts to help it be as lively and vital as always. Soon, as soon as possible.