The Italian municipality of San Leo, in the northeastern region of Emilia-Romagna; might look like the perfect place for a visitor tired of crowded cities.
Beautiful landscapes, narrow ancient streets, a historic castle where mysterious magician Count Cagliostro spent his last days; plus traditional Italian hospitality – these were the reasons tourists had been coming here.
“Tourism matters a lot for Italy, it matters a lot for us, too,” says San Leo’s mayor, Leonardo Bindi.
Then coronavirus came, and the streets of San Leo grew quiet.
The pandemic saw the borders closed and lockdowns imposed. But, as the summer of 2021 approaches; the hope that tourists might get a chance to travel anytime soon is fading.
Emilia-Romagna, together with half of the country, is in the red zone – the area with the highest Covid-19 risk.
When asked how the vaccination campaign is unfolding in San Leo, Mr Bindi says: “Like in other Italian municipalities… There are some three thousand of us in San Leo; and only 7% are vaccinated.”
Italy, one of the pandemic hotbeds in Europe, rolled out its vaccination campaign in December last year.
Since then, in this country of 60 million, only 2.8 million have so far received two doses of the jab.
These numbers are not the worst in Europe – compared with other EU nations, Italy’s inoculation rate is near the middle; – but the bloc’s joint immunization campaign is being held back by shortages in both vaccine production and delivery.
Meanwhile, people in San Leo had a look around and realized they had a small chance to improve the situation; at least for themselves and their neighbours.
Here’s the trick: from San Leo, only a half-hour’s drive can get you out of the EU; and across the border with San Marino.
Unbound by EU obligations, the tiny republic of some 33,900 citizens has purchased Sputnik V; the Russian Covid-19 vaccine.
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The rollout began at the end of February. Later, the republic also received a batch of Pfizer-BioNTech jabs.
As of now, over 26% of San Marino’s vaccinable population have got their vaccines.
The republic’s successful immunization campaign pushed Bindi to team up with the mayor of the nearby Coriano municipality; Domenica Spinelli, to write their neighbour a letter asking for help.
“A lot of citizens from San Leo and Coriano work in San Marino,” Bindi told RT.
“They’re spending a lot of time there, so we asked whether there would be a possibility to vaccinate them with Sputnik V. Of course, I think they [San Marino authorities] will vaccinate their citizens first; and then, I hope, they will take into account our request and communicate with the Italian Health Ministry. A lot of our citizens are supporting this demand, actually.”
That support is well reflected in local press coverage of the mayors’ request. “We want Sputnik” and “Give our workers Sputnik; too” some of the headlines say.
“Personally, I hope that the EMA [European Medicines Agency] authorization will arrive in the upcoming weeks; so we could use this jab in Italy as well. I read that it has a very high protection rate,” Mr Bindi says.
A lack of EMA approval for Sputnik V has already ruined the hopes for swift relief in another small Italian municipality.