Italy considers changing ‘green pass’ requirements amid concern about Delta virus variant

Italy is "likely" to change the rules for accessing its health pass for travel in the coming weeks, the country's deputy health minister said on Monday.

Italy considers changing ‘green pass’ requirements amid concern about Delta virus variant
Italian health authorities currently issue a 'green pass' to those who have had one dose of a Covid-19 vaccine - but this may soon change. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

“It is likely that the Delta variant will force us to remodel the green pass, releasing it after the second dose of a vaccine,” said Deputy Health Minister Pierpaolo Sileri on Italy’s Radio 24 on Monday,

For now, he stressed, it was “too early” to confirm any changes to the system as “we’ll still be waiting for the data for one or two weeks”.

Italy launched its ‘green pass’ scheme on June 17th, meaning people in the country can now use an online portal to claim a digital health certifcate if they have been vaccinated, tested negative, or recovered from Covid-19.

The health pass can be used for quarantine-free travel to other EU countries from July 1st.

In the case of vaccination, the pass is currently made available automatically in Italy 15 days after the first dose of a Covid-19 vaccine.

EXPLAINED: What is Italy’s digital ‘green pass’ used for and how do you get it?

“The decision to issue the green pass after the first dose was not a mistake,” insisted Sileri, adding that “speaking as a doctor and not as a politician, I would say there will probably be a remodeling.”

Sileri was referring to passes issued within Italy, and did not mention any changes to the rules for people using equivalent documents from other countries which are recognised in Italy under the system.

As well as EU countries, Italy also allows quarantine-free travel from the US, Canada and Japan under the ‘green pass’ system – though two vaccine doses are required in this case.

Sileri also stressed that second vaccine doses must be administered more quickly, particularly for older age groups.

At the moment, just under a third of the Italian population is fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

Health experts point out that some 2.5 million people in Italy aged over 60 – who are more vulnerable to experiencing serious illness caused by the virus – have not yet received the first dose of a vaccine.

READ ALSO: Italian health experts warn about Delta variant as vaccine progress slows

Italy’s Higher Health Institute (ISS) said in a report on Friday the Delta variant, which originated in India and has driven a rise in infections in the UK, now accounted for more than 16% of new cases in Italy.

The report warned that this variant was more contagious and had the potential to partially elude vaccines. Other studies have also found that the Delta strain increases the risk of hospitalisation,

Amid rising concern about the impact of the variant, Italian health authorities last week imposed new travel restrictions on arrivals from the UK.

The ISS report, along with others from Italian health experts and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) last weej called for more testing, sequencing and tracing in Italy, as well as renewed efforts were also needed to increase vaccination coverage.

“Based on available scientific evidence, the Delta variant is more transmissible than other circulating variants and we estimate that by the end of August it will represent 90% of all SARS-CoV-2 viruses circulating in the European Union,” stated ECDC Director Dr. Andrea Ammon in the organisation’s report.

“Unfortunately, preliminary data shows that it can also infect individuals that have received only one dose of the currently available vaccines. It is very likely that the Delta variant will circulate extensively during the summer, particularly among younger individuals that are not targeted for vaccination. This could cause a risk for the more vulnerable individuals to be infected and experience severe illness and death if they are not fully vaccinated.

“The good news is that having received two doses of any of the currently available vaccines provides high protection against this variant and its consequences. However, about 30% of individuals older than 80 years and about 40% of individuals older than 60 years have not yet received a full vaccination course in the European Union.

“There are still too many individuals at risk of severe Covid-19 infection whom we need to protect as soon as possible.

“Until most of the vulnerable individuals are protected, we need to keep the circulation of the Delta virus low by strictly adhering to public health measures, which worked for controlling the impact of other variants.”

Member comments

  1. With these new measures planned about needing a Green Pass to enter bars, restaurantes etc, like France, what is being suggested when someone cannot either have the vaccination or has had one but been told not to have the second due to health problems? This new plan is not fair to them as they won’t be admitted to the bar just to have a coffee or a meal or whatever if they don’t have a Green Pass.

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Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

As the infection rate rises sharply across the country, Italian virologists are calling for concerts and festivals to be rescheduled.

Covid-19: Are Italian live events at risk of being postponed?

Italy has seen a large increase in the number of Covid-19 cases in recent days, so much so that a number of virologists across the country are now urging the government to postpone major live events in a bid to curb infections. 

According to a new report by Italy’s independent health watchdog, the Gimbe Foundation, 595,349 new cases were recorded in the week from June 29th to July 5th; a worrying 55 percent increase on the previous week. 

In the same time span, the country also registered a 32.8 percent rise in the number of hospitalised patients, which went from 6,035 to 8,003.  

The latest Covid wave, which is being driven by the highly contagious Omicron 5 variant, is a “real cause for concern”, especially in terms of a “potential patient overload”, said Nino Cartabellotta, president of the Gimbe Foundation. 

As Italian cities prepare to host a packed calendar of concerts and festivals this summer, health experts are questioning whether such events should actually take place given the high risk of transmission associated with mass gatherings.

READ ALSO: What tourists in Italy need to know if they get Covid-19

“Rescheduling these types of events would be the best thing to do right now,” said Massimo Ciccozzi, Director of Epidemiology at Campus Bio-Medico University of Rome. 

The summer wave is expected to peak in mid-July but, Ciccozzi warns, the upcoming live events might “delay [the peak] until the end of July or even beyond” and extend the infection curve.

Antonello Maruotti, Professor of Statistics at LUMSA University of Rome, recently shared Ciccozzi’s concerns, saying that live events as big as Maneskin’s scheduled Rome concert are “definitely not a good idea”. 

The Italian rock band are slated to perform at the Circus Maximus on Saturday, July 9th but the expected turnout – over 70,000 fans are set to attend the event – has raised objections from an array of Italian doctors, with some warning that the concert might cause as many as 20,000 new cases.

If it were to materialise, the prospected scenario would significantly aggravate Lazio’s present medical predicament as there are currently over 186,000 Covid cases in the region (nearly 800 patients are receiving treatment in local hospitals). 

Italian rock band Maneskin performing in Turin

Italian rock band Maneskin are expected to perform at the Circus Maximus in Rome on Saturday, July 9th. Photo by Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

But, despite pleas to postpone the event, it is likely that Maneskin’s concert will take place as scheduled.

Alessandro Onorato, Rome’s Tourism Councillor, said that rescheduling is “out of question” and that “all recommendations from the local medical authorities will be adopted” with the help of the event’s organisers and staff on the ground.

At the time of writing, there is also no indication that the Italian government will consider postponing other major live events scheduled to take place in the coming weeks, though the situation is evolving rapidly and a U-turn on previous dispositions can’t be ruled out.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

On this note, it is worth mentioning that Italy has now scrapped all of its former Covid measures except the requirement to wear FFP2 face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings.

The use of face coverings is, however, still recommended in all crowded areas, including outdoors – exactly the point that leading Italian doctors are stressing in the hope that live events will not lead to large-scale infection.

Antonio Magi, President of Rome’s OMCEO (College of Doctors, Surgeons and Dentists), said: “Our advice is to wear FFP2 masks […] in high-risk situations.”

“I hope that young people will heed our recommendations and think about the health risks that their parents or grandparents might be exposed to after the event [they attend].”