Italy’s fresh new idea to combat COVID-19

In front of Botticelli’s Venus, people take selfies. David’s manhood in close-up. Bottlenecks forming on the way to the popular Duomo’s summit.

Florence was dealing with overtourism during the halcyon prepandemic period. And at the heart of it all was the Uffizi Gallery, one of the world’s most renowned museums.

At its peak, 12,000 visitors a day came in, most of them speeding past the Renaissance paintings to take selfies with the major names: Botticelli’s Venus, Michelangelo’s Holy Family, and Titian’s Venus of Urbino.

Furthermore, so many visitors were acting poorly that the Florentine authorities were forced to implement a good behaviour programme, Enjoy Respect Florence, with penalties of up to €500 (US$608) for those found picnicking outside, sitting on, or graffiti-ing monuments.

Of course, the pandemic has put an end to all of this. However, before travel resumes, the director of the Uffizi needs to ensure that things will not revert to their previous state. Is there a way to be certain of that? Visitors are being diverted away from Florence.

This is where the Uffizi Diffusi project comes in. It’s a reimagining of Italy’s “scattered hotel” model, in which individual “rooms” are housed in various houses throughout the village.

In this initiative, artworks from the Uffizi’s deposit will be displayed throughout Tuscany, transforming the country’s most famous region into one large “scattered” museum.

Around Tuscany, towns and villages are now nominating buildings that could be used as exhibition spaces.

The idea came to Uffizi director Eike Schmidt during the 2020 lockdown, and he’s spent most of the time the museum has been closed working out new locations and artwork pairings, according to CNN Travel.

What is the goal? He hopes to “develop a new form of tourism,” adding that it will “land culture in people’s everyday lives” for locals.

He went on to say, “Art can’t exist on major galleries alone.”

“We need multiple exhibition spaces throughout the area, especially in the places where art was created.”

Schmidt isn’t the first artist to lend artwork to a group. In 2019, on the 500th anniversary of Leonardo da Vinci’s death, he sent a landscape drawing by the artist to his hometown of Vinci.

He also claims that a 2019 exhibition in Anghiari on the 15th-century Battle of Anghiari, in eastern Tuscany, quadrupled the previous record for visits to the local museum.

“The Uffizi is not an isolated museum in the middle of nowhere,” he said at the time, describing the Vinci project as a “special opportunity to see this drawing and then move out into the landscape” depicted in the work of art.

Schmidt has hinted that the new Uffizi Diffusi project would include “at least 60, maybe even 100 exhibition spaces” across Tuscany, including a villa once owned by the Medici family in Montelupo Fiorentino, half an hour west of Florence; port city Livorno; belle epoque spa town Montecatini Terme; and Careggi, where another Medici villa once stood.

Other towns willing to be a part of the project have begun offering properties, including the art nouveau coastal town of Viareggio (pictured above), Seravezza (where there’s another Medici villa), and Lucca, which is offering its Palazzo Ducale, the town’s seat of power since the 14th century.

It’s not just the exhibition spaces that are having a makeover. Schmidt added that the initiative is also a “opportunity for certain works to be revived.”

The art, on the other hand, has a serious purpose. As Florence prepares for a resurgence of mass tourism, Schmidt hopes that the Uffizi Diffusi project will relieve the pressure, promising works by “well-known names” to help disperse the crowds.

“It’s also critical at a local level,” he told CNN, “creating new jobs and stable employment.”

He also said that he wants to get Tuscans closer to their roots, claiming that the new “cultural structure is too dependent on overseas tourism.”

Locals often visit the Uffizi in search of works by artists from their own villages. However, the overall experience could distract from their enjoyment of the one painting they came to see, or the painting may be in storage rather than on display.

The Uffizi Diffusi seeks to return art to its origins, linking people directly to their ancestors.

If you’re visiting Florence, don’t worry about missing out on the art; there’s plenty to go around.

Schmidt told CNN, “We already have over 3,000 pieces of art on display in the Uffizi — that’s enough.”

“In a calmer, more intimate atmosphere, the Uffizi Diffusi will bring to light works of art that no one can see right now.”

The project’s first step is expected to begin this summer.

International Travel Ban Extended to June

The Australian government announced today that the ban on international travel will be extended for another three months. The biosecurity emergency duration will be extended until June 17th, effectively halting all international travel with a few exceptions. This will bring Australia’s rough lockout duration to a total of 15 months.

Non-Stop Qantas flight from Sydney to Frankfurt
Those Qantas long-haul planes aren’t going anywhere any time soon. Pace/ Pace/JFKJets.
Border closures have been in effect for 15 months.
The government has announced that international travel will be prohibited until at least June 2021, which is bad news for travel-hungry Australians and airlines. The ‘biosecurity emergency duration,’ which enables the federal government to limit travel by overseas flight or cruise ship, has been extended.

In a statement released today, Health Minister Greg Hunt announced that a three-month extension to the current emergency period will be given on the recommendation of the Australian Health Protection Principle Committee (AHPPC) and the Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer. This pushes the reopening date for the border to June 17th, 2021, putting Australia under lockdown for a total of 15 months.

It’s a setback for Australians who want to visit family and friends, but it’s even worse for those who are trapped overseas. Prices for flights home are sky high due to strict incoming flight limits and limitations on who can fly. Many who can afford to fly also have their flights cancelled, leaving thousands of people stranded abroad.

The AHPPC has advised the Australian government that the situation with COVID-19 overseas continues to pose an unacceptable health risk to the nation, according to the paper. A major factor listed is the appearance of more transmissible variants in other parts of the world.

The statement concludes with a disclaimer, stating that the restrictions can be revised or revoked if they are no longer necessary. If vaccine programmes continue to roll out quickly and are shown to be successful against new and evolving strains, Australia will be able to open up sooner.
Qantas had previously stated that the service would resume in July, but that date has now been pushed back to October. Qantas photo
Qantas had previously scheduled international flights to resume in July, but Deputy Prime Minister Michael McCormack chastised the airline for making unilateral decisions. As a result, the airline has pushed back the resumption of international flights to October 1st, which is starting to look like a much more feasible date.

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Is it possible that the vaccine would allow travel to resume sooner?
Though Australia has done an outstanding job in terms of case numbers, the effect on the health and livelihoods of its people cannot be overstated. The internet is littered with stories of couples being split, companies failing, and families being ripped apart, and this new expansion of the travel ban will only rekindle a ferocious response from those affected.

The vaccination is the only hope for an earlier opening. Australians are starting to get their first doses of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, and the Oxford-Astrazenica vaccine, which is manufactured in the UK, will start rolling out next week. Frontline employees and quarantine personnel are the first to be vaccinated, accompanied by those who are most at risk of developing a serious case of COVID-19.

The vaccine offers hope for a more open Australia, but will it be required? courtesy of Getty Images
The programme will then continue to reach the general public, but Australia does not expect it to be completed anytime soon. Hunt said, according to reports in Executive Traveler,

“By the end of 2021, our national target is to ensure that all Australians who want to be vaccinated are vaccinated… We won’t be out of this until we have a country with a comprehensive vaccination programme.”

Although vaccination will remain optional for Australian residents, there is discussion about making vaccinations mandatory for visitors arriving in the country. Visitors may be forced to provide evidence of vaccination or undergo two weeks of hotel quarantine at their own expense, according to the National Vaccination Policy.

Qantas CEO Alan Joyce previously stated that vaccines will be required for both tourists and Australians wishing to fly internationally with the airline. Nothing has been verified as of yet, but Australia is clearly concerned about undoing all of its hard work by allowing risks to enter the country.