CAPRI, Italy — The ferry docked next to the blue “Capri a Covid Free Island” billboard and residents and workers disembarked, carrying luggage and antibodies.
Among them was Mario Petraroli, 37, freshly vaccinated and ready for the grand reopening of the luxurious hotel where he works as Director of Marketing.
“The big day,” he said as he rode a funicular above turquoise waters, terraced gardens dripping with lemons and winding cliffside paths.
He reached the top and stepped out in a glamorous city famous for its sightings of Jackie O. and J. Lo, its sky-high Caprese salads and its reputation as a playground for billionaires. Everyone around him – tradesmen unpacking Pucci, Gucci and Missoni clothes from plastic bags, bartenders slipping ice into Spritzes, carpenters hammering basement finishes Anema and Core Taverna dance club – had been vaccinated.
It’s a different story on the Italian mainland, visible across the gulf from the gazebo lined with faux Roman columns. There, the inoculation campaign progressed unevenly, with many elderly people who have not yet received a first dose.
“It’s very frustrating,” admitted Mr Petraroli, whose 68-year-old uncle at home in Naples contracted the virus in late April while waiting for his vaccination appointment. He died a few days later.
The loss further convinced Mr Petraroli that Capri should not wait for Italy to pull itself together. By then, he thought, the summer season would be over and livelihoods, and perhaps lives, would be lost.
The gruff president of the Campania region, which includes Capri, clearly agreed.
Feeling the heat from Greece and Spain, which had prioritized vaccination campaigns on their islands to lure tourists away from Italy, President Vincenzo De Luca deviated from the vaccination strategy of the government to prioritize the most vulnerable categories of Italians. Instead, he treated Capri and other vacation islands as special cases.
He sped up vaccinations on Capri by flooding the island with doses. Older people were vaccinated first, then middle-aged people, then 20-year-olds and even some teenagers while the rest of the region still struggled to get everyone in their 70s and 60s vaccinated.
Then Mr. De Luca vaccinated everyone who worked on the island.
Massimiliano Fedriga, president of the northern region of Friuli Venezia Giulia, warned that “social tensions could erupt” if Capri, which had avoided outbreaks, and other islands were given special treatment. The national government in Rome has insisted that young residents – even on the islands – should only be vaccinated after all the elderly and vulnerable across the region have been vaccinated.
But Mr. De Luca persisted and the government, eager to revive the economy, eventually pulled itself together. This month it approved the vaccination of all residents of small Italian islands, from Elba to the Aeolian Islands off Sicily. Even landlocked towns like the ski resort of Sestriere in the Italian Alps have tried to participate in accelerated vaccinations.
“It’s time to book your vacation in Italy,” said Prime Minister Mario Draghi.
On May 8, as nationwide vaccinations resume, Mr. De Luca came to Capri famous piazzetta in the center of the city to declare mission accomplished and encourage tourists to book their holidays on the islands.
Mr. Petraroli, the hotel’s marketing manager, was now walking through the same square, passing brassy Capri lovers sipping and smoking, their faces pointed at the sun. He entered a maze of narrow streets, lined with Rolex outlets, designer boutiques and Hangout, a popular town pub owned by Simone Aversa.
“My friends say, ‘Oh you’re lucky, we’re still waiting,'” said Mr Aversa, who is 30 and vaccinated. He said his family in Florence had complained about also living in a city buoyed by tourism; why was Capri getting such special treatment?
“Capri is the answer to the question of why you and not us,” Mr. Aversa said with a shrug. “Because it’s Capri.”
Mr. Petraroli highlighted the Aurora restaurant, the oldest in Capri. Its owner, Mia D’Alessio, 49, had received both her second injection of the Pfizer vaccine and a call from Beyoncé’s manager that day, reserving 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 her family were vaccinated. This includes his 19-year-old daughter, a tennis player who trained with Andre Agassi and struck with Bernard Arnault, the French billionaire who heads luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy.
“Capri will be more jet set than before,” Ms D’Alessio said to a wall of photos, including of her posing with Steven Spielberg, Mariah Carey and Michael Jordan. They come for the “jet set pizza,” she says. “It’s not too heavy. No yeast.
VIPs, equipped with private jets, yachts and personal doctors, would, she said, have less trouble getting to the island than the hordes of day-trippers hungry for souvenirs and postcards from the Grotto. blue girl walking around in Capri sandals and limoncello-stained linen shirts, mostly because the cruise industry is struggling to come back strong.
“It’s a good season to discover Capri,” Mr. Petraroli said as he reached the Capri Tiberio Palacewhich Kylie Jenner Mended Over a Recent Summer afterwards, port workers told her, she felt unwell on her yacht.
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The hotel is named after Tiberius, who ruled the Roman Empire from Capri, throwing people off cliffs and teaching Caligula to have a good time. Many here call him the first tourist in Capri.
Mr Petraroli said modern hedonists were already calling, sending scouts to make sure the vaccine situation and the mood were what they wanted.
“The real issue for them is once they’re here, do they have anything to do,” he said as workers carried an espresso machine and dusted the blinds.
Upstairs, Mr Petraroli opened the Bellevue Suite, booked mostly by “sheikhs and sultans and very famous guys”. It leads to a terrace tiled with hand-painted ceramics, topped by a Jacuzzi plunge pool. Mr Petraroli said the late basketball star Kobe Bryant had such a “special connection to our Superior Suite” that he named his daughter Capri after staying there.
Outside the room, Alessandro De Simone, 23, dusts crystal decanters filled with cognac and whisky. Mr De Simone, who is also vaccinated, said none of his friends in Naples had been.
“From their point of view,” he said. “I am privileged.”
But others on the island said their friends on the mainland saw them as luxuriously housed lab rats.
Domenico Marchese, 29, who made banana syrups for his “Barbados Punch” cocktail in the hotel’s Cuban-themed Jackie Bar, said if his parents, in their 50s, couldn’t get vaccinated, his friends, in their twenties, refused. for.
“I try to change their minds,” he said. “I tell them not to worry.”
All around the island, which campaigned in 2019 against overcrowding, the prevailing concern is that no one will come.
At Augustus Gardens, lined with flowerbeds and graceful statues, there was no one at the vantage points to wait at the green ribbon markers that read “Wait here.” The crystal clear water off the coast, usually crowded with ships, was almost free of ships.
Giuseppe Maggipinto, 53, and the island’s president the oldest cooperative of motorboat owners (“All of our skippers and staff have been fully vaccinated!” their website reads) sped around the island without restraint. He sailed through the characteristic rock formations of Faraglione Island (“That’s where Heidi Klum got married on a yacht”) and by La Fontelina beach club where three sunbathers, knees bent and shining, lay under the cliff.
He lamented the “hysterical controversies over our vaccination”, arguing that without a hospital, “if there was a cluster here, we had nothing to save our lives”.
He moored the boat at the wharf where other ferries brought a trickle of tourists, but also returning residents. Dario Portale, a local greengrocer, and his family were among them.
The day after their injection, the couple left for Milan, in the hard-hit 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,” Portale said.