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Tiny San Marino takes a shot at the big time with vaccine tourism

by Reuters
Thursday, 3 June 2021 11:00 GMT

People sit at a bar, as the Republic of San Marino starts a campaign inviting tourists to get vaccinated with the Russia's Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine, June 1, 2021. REUTERS/Alberto Lingria

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The programme, which offers the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 shot to tourists, is helping San Marino's tourism sector emerge from a COVID slump

By Matteo Berlenga and Philip Pullella

SAN MARINO, June 3 (Reuters) - People used to go to San Marino to avoid taxes and collect stamps. Now, the micro-state surrounded by northern Italy is banking on a new way to attract visitors - vaccine tourism.

Europe's smallest independent state after Vatican City and Monaco last month began offering the Russian Sputnik V COVID-19 shot to tourists. About 250 have so far received their first dose.

Hotels handle the paperwork after a tourist sends an email. The visitors typically stay three days for both first and second jabs.

"The guest arrives, stays here for three days, the day after his arrival we accompany him to receive the first dose, and then he comes back after 21 days for the second dose," said Francesco Brigante, director of the IDesign Hotel.

The programme, which is helping San Marino's tourism sector emerge from a COVID slump, is restricted to people who are not resident in Italy.

Igor Pershin, a Russian who lives in the Czech Republic, travelled to San Marino with his wife and stayed at the IDesign after hearing about the programme on Russian TV.

"In the Czech Republic, it is difficult to get vaccinated, especially for foreigners," Pershin said. "I only wanted to get the Sputnik vaccine and I only wanted to get it in San Marino so I booked a hotel."

San Marino is not a European Union member and Sputnik V has not yet been approved for use in the EU. The vaccine is under review by the bloc's regulator, the European Medicines Agency.

Apart from hotel costs, the price for two doses of the vaccine is about 50 euros.

"We came here from Germany because we want to get vaccinated with Sputnik V and because in Germany they haven't given us an appointment yet", said Gioele Cozzolino.

The 24-square-mile (61-square-kilometer) enclave began using Sputnik in February and has so far vaccinated 25,000 of its population of 34,000.

San Marino, which traces its origins to the fourth century, has a robust banking sector. It turned a page in 2017 when the EU's Economic and Financial Affairs Council removed it from its blacklist of non-cooperative countries.

(Pullella reported from Rome; Writing by Philip Pullella; Additional reporting by Fabiano Franchitti and Eleanor Biles; Editing by Giles Elgood)