CAPRI, Italy – The ferry docked next to the blue ‘Capri a Covid Free Island’ sign and residents and workers disembarked, carrying luggage and antibodies.
Among them, Mario Petraroli, 37, freshly vaccinated and ready for the grand reopening of the luxury hotel where he works as director of marketing.
“The big day,” he said as he climbed a funicular over turquoise waters, lemons-dripping terraced gardens and winding cliff-side paths.
He’s made it to the top and stepped out to a glamorous town famous for its sightings of Jackie O. and J.Lo, its exorbitantly priced Caprese salads, and its reputation as a billionaire’s playground. Everyone around him – the shopkeepers unpacking Pucci, Gucci and Missoni clothes from plastic bags, the bartenders slipping ice in the Spritzes, the carpenters putting the finishing touches on the underground dance club Anema e Core Taverna – had been vaccinated.
It’s a different story on the Italian mainland, visible across the gulf from the belvedere lined with false Roman columns. There, the vaccination campaign progressed unevenly, with many older people who have not yet received a first dose.
“It’s very frustrating,” admitted Petraroli, whose 68-year-old uncle at his home in Naples contracted the virus at the end of April while awaiting his vaccination appointment. He died a few days later.
The loss further convinced Mr Petraroli that Capri should not wait for Italy to recover. By then, he thought, the summer season would be over and livelihoods, and possibly lives, would be lost.
The surly 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 keep tourists away from Italy, President Vincenzo De Luca strayed from the government’s vaccination strategy giving priority to the most vulnerable categories of Italians. Instead, he treated Capri and other holiday islands as special cases.
He accelerated the vaccinations on Capri by flooding the island with doses. Seniors were vaccinated first, then middle-aged people, then 20-year-olds and even some teenagers as the rest of the region still struggled to get vaccinated against all their 70s and 60s.
Then Mr De Luca vaccinated anyone 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 epidemics, and other islands received special treatment. The national government in Rome has insisted that the youngest residents – even on the islands – not be vaccinated until after inoculation of all the elderly and vulnerable in the area.
But Mr De Luca persisted and the government, eager to revive the economy, finally came. This month, he approved the vaccination of all residents of the small Italian islands, from the Elbe to the Aeolians off Sicily. Even isolated towns like the ski resort of Sestriere in the Italian Alps have tried to participate in the accelerated vaccinations.
“It’s time to book your vacation in Italy,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said.
On May 8, as the national vaccinations resumed, Mr. De Luca visited the famous piazzetta of Capri, in the city center, to declare the mission accomplished and to encourage tourists to book their holidays on the islands.
Mr Petraroli, the hotel’s marketing director, has now walked through the same plaza, past copper-colored Capri enthusiasts sipping and smoking, their faces pointed towards the sun. It entered a maze of narrow streets, lined with Rolex outlets, designer boutiques and Hangout, a popular pub in the city owned by Simone Aversa.
“My friends say, ‘Oh luck, we’re still waiting,’ said Mr Aversa, 30 and vaccinated. He said his family in Florence had complained that they too lived in a city supported by tourism; why was Capri receiving 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. Her owner, Mia D’Alessio, 49, had received her second Pfizer vaccine that day and a call from Beyoncé’s manager, reserving the usual private dining room for the diva and her husband, Jay-Z, in August. .
The couple would be safe, she said, as everyone in their restaurant and their family were vaccinated. This includes his daughter, 19, a tennis player who trained with André Agassi and struck with Bernard Arnault, the French billionaire at the helm of luxury giant LVMH Moët Hennessy.
“Capri will be more jet-set than before,” Ms. D’Alessio said in front of a photo wall, including of her posing with Steven Spielberg, Mariah Carey and Michael Jordan. They come for “jet set pizza,” she says. “It’s not too heavy. No yeast. “
VIPs, outfitted with private jets, yachts and personal medics, would, she said, have less difficulty getting to the island than souvenirs and hordes of hungry postcards from Blue Grotto, dressed in Capri sandals and limoncello-tinted linen shirts, especially because the cruise industry is struggling to come back in force.
“It’s a good season to discover Capri,” Mr Petraroli said as he reached Capri Tiberio Palace, which Kylie Jenner repaired over a recent summer after port workers told him that ‘she was not feeling well on her yacht.
The hotel is named after Tiberius, who ruled the Roman Empire from Capri, throwing people off the cliffs and teaching Caligula how to have a good time. Many call him here Capri’s first tourist.
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 problem for them is that once they’re here, do they have something to do,” he said as the workers carried an espresso machine and dusted the blinds.
Upstairs, Mr. Petraroli opened the Bellevue Suite, reserved mainly by “sheikhs and sultans and very famous guys”. It leads to a hand-painted ceramic tiled terrace, topped with a plunge jacuzzi pool. Mr Petraroli said 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, 23-year-old Alessandro De Simone sprinkled crystal decanters filled with brandy and whiskey. Mr De Simone, who is also vaccinated, said none of his friends in Naples had been vaccinated.
“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.
Domenico Marchese, 29, who made banana syrups for his signature ‘Barbados Punch’ cocktail at the hotel’s Cuban-themed Jackie Bar, said if his parents, in their 50s, couldn’t get the shots , her friends, in their twenties, refused to.
“I’m trying to change my mind,” he says. “I tell them don’t worry.”
All around the island, which campaigned as recently as 2019 against overpopulation, the overriding concern is that no one will come.
At the Augustus Gardens, lined with flower beds and graceful statues, there was no one at the gazebos to wait in front of the green ribbon markers reading “Wait Here.” The crystal-clear water off the coast, usually obstructed by ships, was almost free from ships.
Giuseppe Maggipinto, 53, and the president of the island’s oldest motorboat owners’ cooperative (“All of our skippers and staff have been fully vaccinated!” Reads on their website), did the tour of the island in complete freedom. He sailed through the iconic rock formations of Faraglione Island (“This is where Heidi Klum got married on a yacht”) and through the La Fontelina beach club where three bathers, with their knees bent and glistening, lay down under the cliff.
He lamented the “hysterical controversies about our vaccination”, saying that without a hospital, “if there was a cluster here, we had nothing to save our lives”.
He moored the boat at the quay where more 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 worst-affected region of the country, 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.