Italian government to make decision on Covid ‘green pass’ expansion as new cases rise

Italian government to make decision on Covid 'green pass' expansion as new cases rise
The EU health pass is currently used for quarantine-free travel but several countries are now expanding its use. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP
The Italian government is meeting on Thursday afternoon to make a final decision on its plan to require people to show a Covid-19 ‘green pass’ in order to visit more cultural or leisure venues.

Italy is planning to require people to show proof of full vaccination, testing or recovery in order to enter more venues as early as next week under an expansion of the use of its certificazione verde or ‘green certificate’.

EXPLAINED: What people vaccinated in Italy need to do to get the Covid ‘green pass’ travel certificate

An announcement had been expected earlier this week, but discussions are still ongoing on Thursday amid resistence from regional authorities to some aspects of the government’s plan.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi is now set to meet with government ministers  at 5pm on Thursday to make final decisions on the plan, with a televised announcement expected after that.

The government has been looking at implementing a ‘French-style’ expansion of the green pass scheme, which could mean making the vaccine passport compulsory in order to access domestic flights, long-distance trains, nightclubs, gyms, and indoor seating in restaurants.

But regional presidents have now reportedly asked the government to make the pass necessary only “to safely allow the resumption of activities which were previously limited or not permitted”, including sporting events, concerts, nightclubs, fairs and conferences. So not at everyday venues like restaurants, cinemas, theaters, gyms, or swimming pools.

But many senior politicians, including the health minister, are pushing for more extensive use of the pass, which they say would enable them to keep all regions in the low-restricion ‘white’ zone, reports news agency Ansa.

Ansa cited a government source as saying the goal is “to have a solid system that allows for safe coexistence with the virus,” saying a limited use of the green pass would not work if the goverment were to also relax the criteria for regions to be declared risk zones, as planned.

Another sticking point is whether or not to make the green pass available in the case of vaccination only for those who are fully immunised – instead of 15 days after the first dose as is currently the case. This change, which the health ministry first suggested a month ago, would bring Italian rules in line with those in most other European countries.

While nothing has yet been officially announced, Italian media reports suggest the timing of the new decree means changes could come into effect as soon as next Monday, July 26th, or in early August.

Analysis: How much longer will all of Italy remain a Covid-19 ‘white zone’?

Photo: Filippo Monteforte/AFP

Italy’s green pass has been in use since June 17th, but at present it is only needed for international travel within Europe, and in Italy it can be used to access care homes or large events like concerts, sports matches and wedding receptions.

Italian health authorities have said that extending the health pass scheme could be a useful way to give unvaccinated people an extra incentive to book a jab, though the main purpose is thought to be avoiding reinstating blanket restrictions during the peak summer holiday season.

READ ALSO: Most people in Italy support extended Covid ‘green pass’ plan, polls find

As Italy enters a fourth wave of coronavirus infections, fuelled by the more contagious Delta variant, several regions are nearing the threshold at which some health measures would need to be brought back under the country’s four-tiered system of restrictions.

The number of new coronavirus infections recorded in Italy has doubled over the past week, with the national average now at 29 new cases per 100,000 inhabitants.

With significant variations in the numbers between regions, the areas seeing the sharpest rises in cases currently are Sardinia, Sicily, Veneto. Campania and Lazio, according to the most recent weekly health data report published by the Higher Health Institute (ISS) and Italian health ministry.

For now, every part of Italy is currently classed as a low-risk ‘white’ zone.

If regions turn ‘yellow’, renewed restrictions would include restrictions on indoor dining at restaurants and a return of the requirement to wear masks outdoors in all public places.

With concerns about the impact this might have on businesses, the health ministry is now planning to change the ‘yellow zone’ criteria.

The EU Digital Covid Health Certificate is currently being used for quarantine-travel across the EU, but several countries are planning to expand its use. Photo: Denis LOVROVIC/AFP

However, the plan to expand the green pass has faced criticism from some experts who point out that many people are still facing long waits for vaccination appointments, while free testing is not available in every region or city.

Many people who have been vaccinated are also reporting having trouble accessing the digital green pass due to missing access codes and other technical problems.

Meanwhile there are questions about how the scheme could be enforced in practice, as commentators argue that only police, and not business owners, would have the right to check health passes.

Who can use Italy’s ‘green pass’?

At the moment Italy’s digital health certificate is available to people who were vaccinated, tested or recovered in Italy.

People from EU and Schengen zone countries, as well as the US, Canada and Japan, can also enter Italy and access venues under ‘green pass’ terms but need to show equivalent health documents issued in their own country.

It appears likely that these rules will remain the same for visitors under the expanded scheme, though nothing has yet been officially confirmed.

Find further details about Italy’s green certificate on the official website (currently only available in Italian).

For more information about the current coronavirus situation and health measures in Italy please see the Health Ministry’s website (in English).