A coffee bar on both sides of the border

BUSINESS

Here is how the coronavirus emergency is experienced in two establishments located one hundred metres from each other on both sides of the Tresa

A coffee bar on both sides of the border

A coffee bar on both sides of the border

From tyre specialist to panelbeater, from bartender to grocery store owner, from restaurant manager to newsagent, from pizza chef to pharmacist, from hairdresser to hotelier and the list could still go on. In the upper Varesotto and in Lavena Ponte Tresa in particular, the reopening of the border is awaited with trepidation, even anxiety. In the border town with its five thousand inhabitants, since 9 March - the lockdown date - business has literally stalled, crushed by the COVID-19 emergency. Pending new decisions by the authorities to reactivate the border crossings of the Swiss and Italians on both sides of the border after the agreement on the border crossing was reached without too much delay from the beginning of the emergency.

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Rome had already indicated the date for the reopening of the Italian borders on 3 June, while Bern, in the meantime, has announced that it is reserving a new assessment of the pandemic picture and that it will only take a decision on its own at a later date (perhaps as early as next week). In this situation of impasse, among traders, insecurity and bewilderment have become increasingly widespread.

On 18 May, as is well known - the Conte government, with its latest decree, gave the green light to the reopening of a large part of commercial activities, setting a series of rules and measures of health prophylaxis that caused many grievances among professionals in multiple sectors, who, despite the promises, have largely not been able to benefit from any State aid. There are also those who (and there are many of them), pressed by debts and precarious economic prospects, have preferred - or were forced - not to reopen their business. They are stories of despair, the final outcome of which will be decided in the coming weeks.

Few customers in the café

To understand what it means to raise the shutters today more than three months after the lockdown decreed by the Italian Government, all you need to do is go to any bar across the border. Donatella, 57 years old, together with her husband, is the owner of Bar Johnny, a popular ice-cream parlour and café near the border. In the open space outside the premises two young couples, adorned with masks, sit a few metres apart; a father and daughter eat ice cream at another table. “Our customers are few, we are waiting for the border to reopen, if the Swiss don’t come back here we’ll feel it”, she says. The first difficulty, for the whole catering sector which has decided to reopen, is to deal with the protocols. They’re complex, to put it mildly, and they keep changing. “Employees - according to an ordinance issued by the Lombardy Region - are required to wear a surgical mask and plastic gloves, while customers entering our premises must have their temperature measured even if sitting outside. In addition, everyone in the bar has to sanitise their hands to approach the counter, even if they are only drinking coffee”.

Criminal Liability

These are the rules. Why so strict? It is quickly mentioned that she’s the owner of the bar. “The NIIAW (National Institute for Insurance against Accidents at Work, ed.) compares the coronavirus as an accident. If one of my employees falls ill in his spare time, I’m criminally liable”. Needless to say: it is “a great injustice”, she says. “We respect all the rules: two metre distance between tables, continuous cleaning, etc., an enormous effort even considering that we’ve reduced staff”. And what about help? Here as elsewhere it came bit by bit: “Our three employees have been laid off and can only return in shifts, otherwise they would lose that”. And the much-discussed 600 euros promised by Conte’s government to help those most in need? “I received the March contributions, but on 16 May the fixed contributions expired and the State has certainly not helped us, so I ask where this aid is. We’ll get over it.” And she says: “For all of us it is not yet time for a toast, we are waiting for the border to reopen and for the Swiss and, in particular, the Ticinese to return”.

Less stringent rules in Malcantone

In Ticino, this period of pandemic is perceived with less rigidity. The scenarios change dramatically. A young attendant at the Bar Centro di Ponte Tresa - who serves us without gloves and mask - explains that these protections “are usually used more in the evening, when customers are more numerous”. Although there’s no obligation for those who come to consume. The rules on health prophylaxis against coronavirus are less suffocating: “The police have already carried out checks, everything has been found to be in order”. The few people sitting outside do not wear gloves or masks. And between the four tables inside the bar, the partition is a simple garden dividing wall. No Plexiglas, no sign indicating articles of this or that law or Big Brother rules. “Our clientele is still local, many people who come here live in Malcantone. The Italians, even when the border was open and the market was in full swing, drank coffee across the border: there it costs one euro, here two francs”. But would you like to be able to choose where to go and what to taste?

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Ultime notizie: OnTheSpot
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