Los Angeles Times

Italy starts requiring COVID passes for all workers, sparking protests

- By Nicole Winfield Winfield writes for the Associated Press.

ROME — Protests erupted in Italy as one of the most stringent anti-coronaviru­s measures in Europe went into effect Friday, requiring all workers, from magistrate­s to maids, to show a health pass to get into their place of employment.

Police were out in force, schools planned to end classes early, and embassies issued warnings of possible violence amid concerns that the anti-vaccinatio­n demonstrat­ions could turn violent, as they did in Rome last weekend.

The so-called Green Pass shows proof of vaccinatio­n, a recent negative test or of having recovered from COVID-19 in the last six months. Italy already required them to access all sorts of indoor environmen­ts, including restaurant­s, museums, theaters and long-distance trains.

But the addition of the workplace requiremen­t has sparked debate and opposition in a country that was a COVID-19 epicenter early in the pandemic and where vaccinatio­n rates are among the highest in Europe.

“Today they are stepping on our Constituti­on,” said an anti-vaccine protester, Loris Mazzarato. “I say no to this discrimina­tion.”

He was among the hundreds of demonstrat­ors in Trieste, where protests by port workers refusing to show a Green Pass to get to work threatened to affect commercial activities, though early reports suggested the ports were operationa­l. Protesters shouted “Liberta!” (“Freedom!”) in a largely peaceful demonstrat­ion in Florence.

Implementa­tion of the new requiremen­t varies: Electronic scanners that can read cellphone QR codes with the Green Pass were set up at bigger places of employment, such as the office of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the headquarte­rs of state railway company Trenitalia.

But at smaller workplaces, employers and managers had to download an app that can scan the codes. While it was unclear how strictly Italy would enforce the requiremen­t, the fear of spot checks drove employers to comply, at least initially.

Sanctions for employers who fail to check employees range from 400 to 1,000 euros, the equivalent of $464 to $1,160. A worker who fails to show a Green Pass at work is considered to be absent without justificat­ion; if the worker shows up anyway without a valid Green Pass, he or she could face fines from 600 euros to 1,500 euros, or $696 to $1,740.

But there were some anomalies: Supermarke­t cashiers and hairdresse­rs have to have a Green Pass to work, but their clients don’t and need only to wear a mask indoors.

The aim of the requiremen­t is to encourage even higher vaccinatio­n rates in a country that has kept the latest Delta variant-fueled resurgence largely under control, reporting about 67 cases per 100,000 inhabitant­s and a daily death toll that hasn’t exceeded 70 for months.

If recent days offer any indication, the new rule is indeed prompting unvaccinat­ed Italians to go for COVID-19 shots. Already 81% of the population older than 12 has been fully vaccinated, but the number of first shots administer­ed Thursday shot up 34% compared with the beginning of the week, Italy’s coronaviru­s official reported Friday.

But for those people who can’t or won’t get their shots, the expanded pass requiremen­t imposes a burden of getting tested every 48 hours just to be able to go to work. People with a proven medical condition that prevents them being vaccinated are exempt.

Some employers are offering free tests at work, but the government has refused calls to make testing free across the board.

Testing capacity proved to be Italy’s Achilles’ heel during the first wave of the pandemic, and the governor of the Veneto region, Luca Zaia, has warned that it won’t be able to keep up with the new demand for tests. He has called for the government to let people secure Green Passes based on results from at-home test kits rather than having to go to a pharmacy for a rapid test.

“If the law says people have the right to work with a test every 48 hours, they have to guarantee this right,” Zaia said.

Not even the Vatican was spared opposition to the new requiremen­t: Three Swiss Guards quit and another three were suspended after they refused to get vaccinated before the Vatican’s certificat­ion requiremen­t went into effect.

Italy’s Green Pass requiremen­t is not a vaccinatio­n mandate, because a negative test and proof of having recovered from COVID-19 are other ways to get it. In Italy, only healthcare workers are required to be vaccinated, and teachers and school administra­tors have had to have a Green Pass to work since Sept. 1.

The Green Pass requiremen­t for all categories of workers goes beyond the rules of other European countries, however. France has had a “virus pass” since the summer to access indoor activities, but it isn’t required for employees to get into their workplaces, except for those who interact with the public. Full vaccinatio­n is required for health workers, retirement home workers and workers caring for people with disabiliti­es, as well as psychologi­sts, osteopaths, chiropract­ors and medical students. Fire officers and some soldiers are obliged to be vaccinated.

In Greece, employers are required by law to maintain a record of the vaccinatio­n status of staff who access work premises. Workers must carry a vaccinatio­n certificat­e that can be scanned using a government applicatio­n, or pay for weekly testing.

In the U.S., the Biden administra­tion imposed sweeping rules in September mandating all employers with more than 100 workers to require them to be vaccinated or test for the coronaviru­s weekly, affecting about 80 million Americans.

An additional 17 million workers at U.S. health facilities that receive Medicare or Medicaid funding also have to be fully vaccinated, while vaccinatio­n is also required for employees of the executive branch and federal contractor­s — with no option to test instead.

 ?? Alberto Pizzoli AFP/Getty Images ?? WOMEN HAND flowers to police officers during a protest Friday in Rome. Similar demonstrat­ions against Italy’s so-called Green Pass took place in other cities.
Alberto Pizzoli AFP/Getty Images WOMEN HAND flowers to police officers during a protest Friday in Rome. Similar demonstrat­ions against Italy’s so-called Green Pass took place in other cities.

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