ROME — When Italy won the Eurovision Song Contest with an over-the-top glam-rock performance, the victory signaled more than just a psychological boost for one of the countries hardest hit by COVID-19: Held before a live, indoor audience of 3,500, the annual kitsch fest confirmed that Europe was returning to a semblance of normalcy that was unthinkable even a few weeks ago.
Coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are plummeting across the continent, after Europe led the world in new cases last fall and winter in waves that cost hundreds of thousands of lives, forced more rolling lockdowns and overwhelmed intensive care units. Now, vaccination rates are accelerating across Europe, and with them, the promise of summer vacations on Ibiza, Crete or Corsica. There are hopes for a rebirth of a tourism industry that in Spain and Italy alone accounts for 13% of gross domestic product but was wiped out by the pandemic.
“We don’t speak of 2020. We speak of from today onward,” said Guglielmo Miani, president of Milan’s Montenapoleone luxury shopping district, where European and American tourists have started trickling back, wooed in part by in-person meetups with design teams and free breakfasts at iconic cafes. The hope is that Asian tourists will follow next year.
Europe saw the largest decline in new COVID-19 infections and deaths this week compared with any other region, while also reporting about 44% of adults had received at least one dose of vaccine, according to the World Health Organization and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control.
Europe’s seven-day rolling average for new cases per 100,000 people had been higher than any other region from mid-October through the beginning of December, ceding the unwanted top spot to the Americas over the new year before reclaiming it from early February through April, according to an Associated Press analysis of data.