Starting next week, all public and private workers in Italy will be required to have a digital COVID-19 health certificate or face being sent home on unpaid leave and fined up to $1,730.
The measure making the so-called “green pass” compulsory, announced last month, comes into effect October 15, and will remain in force until at least the end of the year, but most likely for longer, officials say. Government ministers and health care officials say the rule is necessary to protect public health and to avoid an infection resurgence.
Requiring health passes for all workers sets Italy apart from European neighbors, most of which only require health care workers to prove they have been fully vaccinated, recently tested negative for the coronavirus or have recovered after contracting the virus.
The Italian move aims not only to reduce the chance of the infection rate surging as the northern hemisphere’s winter approaches, it is also aimed at boosting vaccine uptake.
“The vaccine is the only weapon we have against COVID-19 and we can only contain infections by vaccinating the large majority of the population,” Regional Affairs Minister Mariastella Gelmini said.
She and other ministers point to the downward curve of the epidemic in Italy, a decline that has coincided with a vaccination program that has now seen the inoculation of 80% of Italian adults. Health authorities Thursday reported 2,938 new coronavirus cases in Italy in the previous 24 hours, and 41 deaths.
“The green pass works, the number of vaccinated people increases, and consequently in recent weeks the data on infections, hospitalizations and of deaths have dropped significantly,” Gelmini told reporters here Thursday.
“The pandemic is finally under control in many parts of the world thanks to effective vaccination campaigns,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said Thursday.
“Vaccines are safe and they save lives,” he added.
While the Parliament voted overwhelmingly last month when asked to approve the measure making a health pass mandatory for all workers, some ethicists and political philosophers have raised concerns, saying the rule effectively strips some citizens of their constitutional rights when they have not broken any laws. They also say it violates European Union regulations barring discrimination against the unvaccinated.
Massimo Cacciari, one of Italy’s most respected philosophers, says the rule is dangerously discriminatory as it “automatically transforms an entire category of people into second-class citizens.”
“We are in a situation of very dangerous drift, into a perennial state of emergency,” Cacciari said during a recent television debate hosted by the news agency Adnkronos.
“If you have no sensitivity to constitutional issues, fine,” he added, “But how can you not understand that the COVID emergency is accelerating this drift, with a centralization of the decision-making process.”
The only other country in the world to have made a COVID-19 passport compulsory for all workers is Saudi Arabia. Several other European countries have also made COVID-19 health passes mandatory to enter public venues such as restaurants, bars, museums, cinemas, and theaters. Greece tests unvaccinated workers now in both public and private sectors.
According to opinion polls the Italian public largely backs the measure, but thousands of vaccine opponents and COVID-19 skeptics have regularly gathered on Saturdays in towns and cities across Italy to protest pandemic restrictions and green pass mandates since they were first mandated in July for access to entertainment venues, indoor dining at restaurants and long-distance rail travel.
Labeling the Draghi government “health dictatorship,” protesters rail against what they see as an infringement of civil liberties, and often trade in conspiracy theories on social media platforms, alleging among other things that the vaccines are unproven and that they are behind a spate of deaths.
How the mandate will fare in requiring workers to possess a green pass is unclear, though. Outside the big cities it is rare for restaurants to request evidence of a green pass from customers, it seems from visits to eight restaurants on Rome’s outskirts. Only one asked to see customers’ digital health certificates.
The government is introducing heavier sanctions starting next week for venues and businesses that fail to observe the health mandates. Managers and owners who breach the rules more than once can face a 10-day closure order. Employers are also being instructed to verify their workers’ digital certificates before the start of shifts.
Business leaders have complained about the onerous nature of checks. Under database privacy laws, businesses are not allowed to keep employees’ health data and are meant to reverify their health certificates every day.
Business associations Confindustria, which represents manufacturing and service companies, and Confcommercio, which represents trade, tourist, service, and transportation companies, are negotiating with Draghi’s ministers to see if employers can gain access to the government’s database storing vaccination records, all of which are linked to the tax numbers of those who have been vaccinated.