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CAPRI, Italy – The ferry drew up next to the blue “Capri a Covid Free Island” billboard, and residents and workers disembarked with luggage and antibodies.
Among them was Mario Petraroli, 37, freshly vaccinated and ready to reopen the luxury hotel where he works as marketing director.
“The big day,” he said as he rode a funicular over turquoise water, terraced gardens with lemons and winding footpaths on the cliffs.
He reached the top and entered a glamorous town famous for its Jackie O and J Lo sightings, exorbitant Caprese salads, and reputation as a billionaire’s playground. Everyone around him – the shopkeepers who unwrapped Pucci, Gucci, and Missoni out of plastic bags, the bartenders pouring ice cream, the carpenters who finished the Anema e Core Taverna underground dance club – had been vaccinated.
It’s a different story in mainland Italy, visible across the Gulf from the lookout point lined with man-made Roman columns. There the vaccination campaign has progressed unevenly, with many seniors who have not yet received a first dose.
“It’s very frustrating,” admitted Mr Petraroli, whose 68-year-old uncle contracted the virus at home in Naples in late April while waiting for his vaccination appointment. He died days later.
That loss further convinced Mr. Petraroli that Capri shouldn’t wait for Italy to pull its act together. By then, he thought, the summer season would be over and livelihood, and possibly life, would be lost.
The gruff president of the Campania region, which includes Capri, clearly agreed.
Sensing the heat of Greece and Spain, which had prioritized vaccination campaigns on their islands to lure tourists away from Italy, President Vincenzo De Luca is deviating from the government’s vaccination strategy of prioritizing categories of more vulnerable Italians. Instead, he treated Capri and other vacation islands as special cases.
He fast-forwarded the vaccinations on Capri by flooding the island with cans. Seniors were vaccinated first, then middle ages, then 20 year olds, and even some teenagers, while the rest of the region was still struggling to get gunshots on all 70 and 60 year olds.
Then Mr De Luca vaccinated everyone who worked on the island.
Massimiliano Fedriga, president of the northern Friuli Venezia Giulia region, warned that “social tensions could flare up” if Capri, which had avoided outbreaks, and other islands were given special treatment. The national government in Rome insisted that younger residents – including those on the islands – should only be vaccinated after all elderly and vulnerable people across the region had been vaccinated.
But Mr De Luca stayed and the government, trying to get the economy going again, eventually came by. In that month, vaccination of all inhabitants of smaller Italian islands from Elba to the Aeolians off Sicily was approved. Even inland cities like the Sestriere ski area in the Italian Alps have tried to get involved in the rapid vaccinations.
“It’s time to book your vacation in Italy,” said Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
On May 8th, as national vaccinations were increasing, Mr. De Luca came to Capri’s famous piazzetta in the center of the city to declare the mission accomplished and to urge tourists to book their vacation to the islands.
Mr. Petraroli, the hotel’s marketing director, was now crossing the same square, past copper-colored Capri enthusiasts who were sipping and smoking, their faces facing the sun. He stepped into a maze of narrow streets lined with Rolex outlets, branded boutiques and Hangout, a popular pub in town owned by Simone Aversa.
“My friends say, ‘Oh, luckily we’re still waiting,” said Aversa, 30 years old and vaccinated, who said his family in Florence had complained that they too lived in a tourist-supported city. Why was Capri treated so special?
“Capri is the answer to why you and not us,” said Mr Aversa with a shrug. “Because it’s Capri.”
Mr. Petraroli pointed out the Aurora restaurant, Capri’s oldest. The owner, Mia D’Alessio, 49, had received her second shot of the Pfizer vaccine that day, as well as a call from Beyoncé’s manager, and booked the usual private dining room for the diva and her husband Jay-Z in August.
The couple would be safe, she said, because everyone in her restaurant and family were vaccinated. This includes her 19-year-old daughter, a tennis player who trained with Andre Agassi and met with Bernard Arnault, the French billionaire of luxury goods giant LVMH Moët Hennessy.
“Capri is going to be more jet-set than before,” said Ms. D’Alessio in front of a wall full of pictures, including her poses with Steven Spielberg, Mariah Carey and Michael Jordan. They come for the “jet set pizza,” she said. “It’s not too difficult. No yeast. “
The VIPs, armed with private jets, yachts, and personal doctors, would have less trouble getting to the island than souvenirs and Blue Grotto postcard-hungry hordes of day-trippers fluttering around in Capri sandals and limoncello-stained linen shirts, especially because the cruise industry is struggling to get back to full strength.
“It’s a good time of year to experience Capri,” said Mr Petraroli as he reached the Capri Tiberio Palace, which Kylie Jenner repaired one summer after workers at the port told him she was uncomfortable on her yacht.
The hotel is named after Tiberius, who ruled the Roman Empire from Capri, throwing people off cliffs and teaching Caligula how to have a good time. Many here call him Capri’s first tourist.
Mr Petraroli said modern hedonists have already called and sent scouts to make sure the vaccination situation and mood is what they want.
“The real problem for them is that once they’re here they have something to do,” he said as the workers carried an espresso machine and dusted the blinds.
On the upper floor, Mr. Petraroli opened the Bellevue suite, which was mainly booked by “sheikhs and sultans and very famous men”. It leads to a hand-painted ceramic tiled terrace with a hot tub. Mr Petraroli said the late basketball star Kobe Bryant had such a “special relationship with our top suite” that he named his daughter Capri after he stayed there.
Outside the room, Alessandro De Simone (23) dusted crystal decanters filled with cognac and whiskey. Mr De Simone, who is also vaccinated, said none of his friends were back in Naples.
“From their point of view,” he said. “I am privileged.”
But others on the island said their mainland friends viewed them as luxuriously housed lab rats.
29-year-old Domenico Marchese, who made banana syrups for his signature “Barbados Punch” cocktail in the hotel’s Cuban Jackie Bar, said that while his parents in their fifties could not be vaccinated, his friends in their twenties declined.
“I’m trying to change your mind,” he said. “I tell them don’t worry.”
Everywhere on the island, which only fought against overcrowding in 2019, there is concern that no one will come.
In the Augustus Gardens, lined with flower beds and graceful statues, no one waited at the lookout points for the green markings with the words “Wait here”. The crystalline water off the coast, which was usually clogged with ships, was almost completely free of ships.
The 53-year-old Giuseppe Maggipinto and the president of the oldest cooperative of motorboat owners on the island (“All of our skippers and employees have been fully vaccinated!”, It says on their website) sped around the island uninhibited. He navigated through the island’s typical Faraglione rock formations (“Here Heidi Klum got married on a yacht”) and through the La Fontelina beach club, where three sun worshipers lay under the cliff with their knees bent and shiny.
He lamented the “hysterical polemics that we are being vaccinated” and argued that without a hospital we would have nothing to save our lives if there was a group here.
He tied the boat to the dock, where more ferries brought a lot of tourists, but also returning residents. Dario Portale, a local greengrocer, and his family were among them.
The day after the shot, the couple traveled to Milan in the badly affected region of Lombardy to introduce their 10-month-old son to his mother. She is 62 years old, works in a post office and is not vaccinated.
“She’s still waiting,” said Mr. Portale.