Nothing like going overseas to get a fresh perspective on COVID. You may remember that this pandemic became worldwide when Northern Italy suffered a huge outbreak of what was then called the coronavirus. It occurred right around the time of Milan Fashion Week, February 2020, with tourists coming in from all over the world, including a large percentage of Asians.
The Italian health care system was quickly overwhelmed and a country often thought of being the ultimate tourist destination for Americans became known as one of the most dangerous places on earth.
I went back there last week and I can tell you I never felt safer. You know why? Because it's so hard to get into - you need a written PCR test negative confirmation - and more important, it is so difficult to go anywhere without what's known as a Green Pass. It's a European card that demonstrates you have been vaccinated twice. The card has spurred vaccinations to where Europe is now more than 70% inoculated. What a change from six months ago when they were pretty much nowhere versus our country.
In Italy you need it on you at all times. Any restaurant, any store, has a right to ask you for your card and turn you down from entering if you don't have one. Fortunately they accepted our fully vaccinated cards, but I don't know how long that will last given their flimsy nature: a couple of scrawls on a beaten up almost three by five card.
In Italy it is so strict that a friend of ours who was vaccinated twice but didn't get her green pass yet, was turned down when we went to get gelato together.
While we were there we learned that Italy is considering making vaccination mandatory to insure that it does not get another outbreak as it did before.
When I suggested to some public health officials whom I met that it all seems pretty draconian according to about 50% of our country's people, some of whom are capable of being paid big bonuses to get vaccinated and are still turning them down, I got a real earful. One of the doctors, who runs one of the largest clinics, told us it isn't about free speech, it's about public health and that's not something that non-public health people should be determining. The public health officials are uniformly trying to wipe it out and private industry seems to eagerly embrace the judgment.
Compare that with our country where the notion of getting sick and giving someone your sickness is regarded as a free speech issue - I guess you could call it free illness - where we are protecting the right of people to give you COVID if they have it. The public-private partnership may be the most effective way of combatting this illness.
It's a public health issue for certain, but it's going to do something else, it's going to help turnaround the long dormant European economy. Tourism internally is way up even as it is down from America. The companies I talk to, both tech and non-tech, are seeing incredible numbers out of Europe. You are seeing it from companies as diverse as Salesforce (CRM) where the numbers were spectacular, to PVH (PVH) where European sales of Tommy Hilfiger and Calvin Klein were well above plan and led the way for the company's big breakout. No one was looking for that one.
For ages I have tried to steer clear of companies that were overweighted in European sales. It was almost always a mistake. But when a continent goes 70% vaccinated and catches and passes us by a mile, you know that many of the supply chain and employment issues are going to go away. Have green pass will travel, if not, stay home.
No, I am not saying that we should all get vaccinated to make the economy better. We should get vaccinated to get our health better. When we do, we, too, can start growing again instead of getting that anemic downside surprise of an employment number last Friday.
Italy's still a fragile economy. It needs U.S. tourists to really go great guns. Something tells me, though, that when people start traveling again en masse, to Europe, they will head to Italy. Why not? In two years' time I have never felt safer.