Why introducing the Green Pass to museums is a bad idea

With the mandatory green certification, or green pass, for museums and monuments, the dramatic problems of cultural and tourism venues, which in Italy often coincide, are highlighted and exacerbated.

As of August 6, in the area of museums and monuments, Green Certification will be required for all “ticketed” sites: so it does not matter if the site is outdoors (archaeological parks) or indoors (museums), but if it is cordoned off and you enter through a ticket (even if that ticket is free), in addition to the few that, although unticketed, already have temperature controls now (e.g., in Rome, the Pantheon). Personally, I got vaccinated as soon as I was allowed in my region, and if it were recommended I would also do the third dose right away; I firmly believe in the necessity of the vaccine to cope with this pandemic, to get back to work and for economic recovery; especially in our sector, the tourism sector, brought to its knees by COVID-19. However, I confess to being perplexed and concerned at the imposition of the Green Pass for museums and cultural sites, all indiscriminately; especially at its practical implementation and consequences.

First, because museums, monuments, and archaeological parks, since reopening after the first lockdown, are among the safest places in the country: heavily quotaed and subject to strict controls and restrictions. One can enter only after a temperature check and wearing a mask, which must be maintained for the entire stay, even if they are outdoors. Many of Italy’s most famous and visited sites are outdoors: the Colosseum, Roman Forum and Palatine Hill, Ostia Antica, Villa Adriana and Villa d’Este, Pompeii (most of the domus are uncovered), Paestum, Agrigento and many others. The same regulations apply there as those indoors. All experts will agree that walking for half an hour in the Roman Forum is extremely safer than shopping in a store. In both the outdoor and indoor ones, the number of visitors allowed is ridiculously low compared not only with transportation but also with restaurants and stores. Just think of the volumes: most museums have ceilings 5, sometimes 8 meters high, with rooms almost completely empty except for hanging paintings and sometimes statues. The result is that each visitor has infinitely more cubic meters of air available to him or her than someone entering a store. Those who visit a museum are almost always silent, because they enter to look at the works; if they are with their family or friends, they may exchange a few words and still keep their masks on. In the case of guided tours, only the guide speaks, with the microphone placed under the mask. So in museums the chances of droplets coming out and propagating are infinitely low. Those who enter a restaurant, on the other hand, stay the whole time without the mask, eating, talking and laughing with people sitting next to and right in front of them; in a store they try on clothes, touch objects, chat.

Yet museums and archaeological parks were included in the decree law in the same way as restaurants, festivals, swimming pools, team sports, sports competitions and events. These places, however, are not all the same. It is absurd to compare the risk of infection between visitors with masks moving around cultural venues and people participating in the sausage festival (walking, talking, and eating without masks among the stalls) or kids playing soccer in contact with each other or the gatherings of thousands of people without masks during sporting events.

Green pass al museo
Green passes at the museum

Second, for the practical application of the law. Cultural venues already suffer from a dramatic shortage of in-house staff, which since the post-pandemic has been compounded by a shortage of concessionaires’ staff due to economic losses caused in turn by low visitor numbers. In Rome, almost all museums are effectively nearly empty; the less famous ones that had few visitors even before the pandemic never reopened and have been closed since March 2020 because they cannot afford the costs of reopening. At the Pantheon, there is a long line under the sun to do temperature control, while inside it is practically empty; let alone if the staff at the entrance will have to check green certifications as well. At some sites, the staffed ticket booths have never been reactivated and people enter only with online tickets. For example, in Rome, at the Mausoleum of Cecilia Metella: from August 6 will a person be paid for a site like that, where almost no one enters every day, just to check the Green Pass, or will the monument be closed? Other places are open on a hiccup basis, with reduced hours or for limited sections: the National Roman Museum, which boasts the largest collection of frescoes after the National Archaeological Museum in Naples, has been open only partially for months (they keep one floor closed every day) due to lack of staff. Will the already crisis-ridden directorates be able to put on and pay for more staff? Or will the new control result in longer lines? Or in further closures?

Third, why is it absurd that visitors have to show the Green Pass but not employees (from managers to custodial and cleaning staff). If the law is made to make that place as protected as possible, Green Certifications must have them all; indeed, it is dangerous that the very people who work there the whole day can be without them (not vaccinated and not even swabbed). In Italy, however, unless the law states that the vaccine is mandatory either for everyone or for certain categories, the employer/administration cannot ask the staff even if they are vaccinated. If the Green Pass requirement were confirmed for guides and tour leaders, who instead enter those places to work on a freelance basis, it would even amount to discrimination between workers (between employees and freelancers) that is prohibited by both European and Italian regulations. Then compulsory vaccination for all would be more serious and more consistent.

Fourth, because in reality the “Green Certification” provided for in the new decree law does not create any "Covid-free bubble." We know very well that even vaccinated people can test positive and infect other people themselves (the difference is in the very low probability of severe symptoms, ending up in intensive care, and mortality). The rule is clearly made to push the undecided to vaccinate; as of the next day, in fact, it had a very good result. It is thus based on the obligation for places that “attract” Italians. From this point of view, however, museums add nothing to the persuasive value of the decree: a large part of our countrymen unfortunately rarely enter museums (just look at the data of the last few years, but also those of 2021). People mainly want to go to swimming pools, gyms, concerts and events, not so much to monuments, especially if they pay a fee. Those who do not want to get the vaccine will not do it now to see Pompeii, in case they will go in a year or two.

Fifth, because the rule risks not letting the few foreign tourists who were returning into museums. For European citizens it is easy, since the Green Pass is the same. However, we register the problem of many families with teenagers still unvaccinated, partly because, due to still differing opinions among experts, vaccination under the age of 18 is not recommended in some nations. For those from the U.S. fortunately, the vaccination certificate is similar to ours and recognized as valid, although it does not have a QR-Code. Many other nations, however, have adopted vaccines not recognized by AIFA and EMA, so their certificates are not valid. To enter Italy, both they and all those not vaccinated (EU and non-EU) must show a negative result of a swab taken within 48 hours beforehand and must take another one to leave. All of them, however, after the first 48 hours have passed and thus the validity of the swab taken before departure has expired, will have to take another swab to gain access to a museum. How many will take another swab to visit Pompeii or the Uffizi? To complicate matters then, some non-state monuments already say they will only accept certificates with QR codes... and will all visitors with negative tests and certificates from other countries without QR codes be turned away? Apart from the confusion to untangle the rules, the consequence will be a decrease in visits by all foreigners or even a cancellation of the entire stay in Italy to postpone it until better times.

Sixth, even wanting to stay in the tourist industry, I struggle to find any logic. Among the places potentially visited by tourists from all over the world who might come to an Italian city, the certificate is mandatory only for museums and monuments, for the inside of restaurants and for conventions, but not for tourist coaches, nor for hotels, nor for trains. What is the point? Why not instead check (and thoroughly) the health certifications of everyone who (re)enters Italy, both Italians and foreigners? At least we would avoid the spread of contagion from the first moment. We know from hundreds of direct testimonies of relatives, friends, and tourists that not only now but also in 2020 countless travelers were not asked for health certifications either in the country of exit or in the country of entry (Italy), so they would not have been stopped even if they had Ebola; of those arriving by car, let’s not even talk about it, you know there are no controls. And you want to ask for the buffer only if they wish to enter the Villa dei Quintili, in the middle of the Roman countryside? Maybe you should thank them if they go there and pay two tickets.

The world of cultural heritage is not the glittering one that TV showed at the G20 in the Colosseum Arena, with dozens of people ready at every corner for assistance; it is the world of abandoned archaeological sites and half-closed museums, of libraries and archives without librarians and archivists. Before imposing the Green Pass at all sites in Italy, we need to make sure we have the staff to control it. There is only one watchword that should guide the use of the Recovery Fund in this area: human resources. We need to invest in thousands of new hires (far beyond those in the competitions that are being held now after 20 years), to fill roles starting from managers (whose duties are often covered by people hired and paid in assistant positions) to custodians. In conclusion, the Green Pass requirement at cultural sites, added to the catastrophic lack of staff, will result in a further decline in visitor numbers for museums and monuments, which are already suffering greatly, and, as a result, in the cancellation of jobs for guides and tour leaders and yet another blow to the tourism sector in general, with no benefits in terms of curbing contagions. Italy’s museums and archaeological parks have already been among the most “COVID-free” places in the world since last year, and this message should have been spun by the relevant bodies long ago to promote our heritage. We need strategies to revitalize the sector, not to crush it. And I hope no one uses this article for pro-vax and no-vax dispute, which has nothing to do with my reflections.

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