Protests erupted in Italy as one of the toughest anti-coronavirus Measures in Europe came into force on Friday, requiring all workers, from magistrates to chambermaids, to present a health passport to access their workplace.
Police were out in force, schools were planning to end classes earlier and embassies have issued warnings of possible violence, fearing anti-vaccination protests could turn violent, as they did in Rome over the weekend latest.
The so-called “Green Pass” shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test, or having recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months. Italy already required them to access all kinds of indoor environments, including restaurants, museums, theaters and long-distance trains.
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But the addition of the workplace requirement has sparked heated debate and opposition in a country that was a coronavirus epicenter at the start of the pandemic and where vaccination rates are among the highest in Europe.
“Today they are marching on our Constitution,” said anti-vaccine protester Loris Mazzarato. “I say NO to this discrimination.”
He was among hundreds of protesters in Trieste, where protests by port workers refusing to show a green pass to work threatened to affect business activities, although early reports suggested the ports were operational. Protesters shouted “Liberta” (Freedom) during a largely peaceful protest in Florence.
The implementation of the new requirement varies: electronic scanners capable of reading QR codes from mobile phones with the Green Pass have been installed in larger workplaces, such as the office of Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi and the headquarters of the national railway company Trenitalia.
But in smaller workplaces, from restaurants to tennis clubs, employers and managers had to download an app that could scan codes. While it was not clear to what extent Italy would enforce the requirement, fear of spot checks prompted employers to comply, at least initially.
The penalties for employers who do not monitor employees range from 400 to 1,000 euros. A worker who does not present his Green Pass at work is considered to be absent without justification; if the worker nevertheless presents himself without a valid Green Pass, he is liable to fines ranging from 600 euros to 1,500 euros.
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But there were a few anomalies: supermarket cashiers and hairdressers must have a “Green Pass” to work, but not their customers, and only have to wear a mask inside.
The goal of the requirement is to encourage even higher vaccination rates in a country that has largely contained the latest delta-fueled outbreak, reporting around 67 cases per 100,000 population and a daily death toll that does not hasn’t passed 70 for months.
In Italy, 80% of the population over 12 is already fully vaccinated. But for people who can’t or won’t get vaccinated, the expanded pass requirement places the burden of getting tested every 48 hours just so they can go to work, although people with a medical condition proven that prevents them from being vaccinated are exempt.
Some employers offer free tests at work, but the government has refused calls to make tests free in all areas. Currently, rapid tests range from 8 euros for children to 15 euros for adults.
Testing ability turned out to be Italy’s Achilles heel during the first wave of the pandemic, and Veneto region governor Luca Zaia warned he would not be able to respond to the new demand. He called on the government to let people get green passes based on the results of home test kits rather than having to go to a pharmacy for a quick test.
“If the law says people have the right to work with a test every 48 hours, they have to guarantee that right,” Zaia said.
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Even the Vatican has not been spared from opposition to the new requirement: three Swiss guards resigned and three others were suspended after refusing to be vaccinated before the pass requirement took effect. Vatican green.
The Green Pass requirement is not a vaccination warrant, as a negative test or proof of recovery from COVID-19 are other ways to get it. In Italy, only health workers need to be vaccinated, and teachers and school administrators need to have a Green Pass to work since September 1.
The Green Pass requirement for all categories of workers, however, went beyond other European countries. France has had a “virus pass” since the summer to access indoor activities and events, but it is not compulsory for employees to get to work.
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In Greece, employers are required by law to keep a register of the vaccination status of staff entering the workplace. Workers must have a vaccination certificate that can be scanned using a government app or pay for weekly tests.
In the United States, the Biden administration imposed sweeping rules in September requiring all employers over 100 workers to demand that they be vaccinated or tested for the virus every week, affecting an estimated 80 million Americans. An additional 17 million workers in healthcare facilities that receive federal Medicare or Medicaid must also be fully immunized, while immunization is also required for executive employees and contractors who do business with the federal government – without possibility to test instead.
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