‘No vaccines mean a new lockdown’: Italian PM slams anti-vax comments as he unveils plan to avoid new restrictions

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday night took a firm line against those who encourage others not to get vaccinated against Covid-19, saying: “An invitation not to get vaccinated is an invitation to die.”

‘No vaccines mean a new lockdown’: Italian PM slams anti-vax comments as he unveils plan to avoid new restrictions
Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi giving a televised press conference on July 22nd, 2021. Roberto Monaldo/POOL/AFP

Draghi’s comments came at a press conference on Thursday night, as he and Health Minister Roberto Speranza outlined plans for expanding the use of the ‘green pass’ within Italy.

From August 6th, people in Italy will need the pass to enter gyms, swimming pools, museums, cinemas, theatres, sports stadiums and other public venues, including indoor seating areas at bars and restaurants under the new rules.

READ ALSO: Italy makes Covid ‘green pass’ mandatory for restaurants, gyms, cinemas and more from August

The Italian government hopes the expansion of the ‘green pass’ scheme will persuade more people to book their vaccinations as health ministry data shows a recent slowdown in the number of first jabs administered.

Draghi, formerly head of the European Central Bank, stressed that the health pass requirement was also being introduced as an alternative to new restrictions and business closures as the number of new cases recorded in the country has spiked.

”The use of vaccine certificates is needed to keep the economy open,” Draghi said, adding that Italy’s economy is recovering faster than expected, and is even outpacing some of its European neighbours.

“An invitation not to get vaccinated is an invitation to die, or to let others die,” Draghi said.

He urged people to get vaccinated as soon as possible, saying: “No vaccines mean a new lockdown”.

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

Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

Draghi’s comment was an apparent swipe at rightwing populist League party leader Matteo Salvini, who has expressed the opinion that if you’re under 40, getting vaccinated is “not necessary”.

His comments have been strongly criticised by Italian medical experts and Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who responded by saying that: “In the debate on vaccines, ambiguity on the part of any political force is not acceptable.”

“Our scientists strongly recommend the vaccine even under the age of 40,” Speranza stressed.

The World Health Organization states that “Covid-19 vaccines are safe for most people 18 years and older, including those with pre-existing conditions of any kind.”

READ ALSO: Italian PM Draghi changes Covid vaccines for second dose

Vaccination appointment bookings have been open to everyone aged over 12 in Italy since early June.

More than half of the Italian population aged over 12 is now fully vaccinated, and almost two-thirds have had a first jab, Draghi said.

The decision to expand the use of the green pass came after the number of new coronavirus cases detected daily in Italy more than doubled within a week. The country registered 5,057 new infections on Thursday.

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

Around 2,000 people held a protest on Thursday night in the northern city of Turin after Draghi’s announcement, with around 50 more demonstrations against the vaccine pass requirement planned for Friday and Saturday.

Several Italian regions meanwhile reported that Draghi’s announcement, or the “Draghi effect”, had had an immediate impact on vaccination bookings.

Lombardy and Lazio recorded the steepest increase in bookings, according to media reports.

Vice-President of the Lombardy Region Letizia Moratti wrote on Twitter on Friday that “participation in the vaccination campaign is growing, yesterday about 49,000 citizens signed up. To meet these new requests, an additional 100,000 new appointments will be made available for first doses from today until the end of August ”

 Similar measures announced in France by President Emmanuel Macron last week sparked protests, but also dramatically increased the number of vaccination bookings

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Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italian heathcare staff suspended over their refusal to be vaccinated against Covid-19 can now return to work, Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni confirmed on Monday.

Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Italy become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

That obligation had been set to expire in December, but was brought forward to Tuesday due to “a shortage of medical and health personnel”, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci said.

READ ALSO: Is Italy’s government planning to scrap all Covid measures?

Italy was the first European country to be hit hard by the coronavirus pandemic in early 2020, and has since registered nearly 180,000 deaths.

Schillaci first announced the plan to scrap the rule on Friday in a statement saying data showed the virus’ impact on hospitals  “is now limited”.

Those who refuse vaccination will be “reintegrated” into the workforce before the rule expires at the end of this year, as part of what the minister called a “gradual return to normality”.

Meloni said the move, which has been criticised by the centre-left as a win for anti-vax campaigners, would mean some 4,000 healthcare workers can return to work.

This includes some 1,579 doctors and dentists refusing vaccination, according to records at the end of October, representing 0.3 percent of all those registered with Italy’s National Federation of the Orders of Physicians, Surgeons and Dentists (Fnomceo) 

Meloni’s post-fascist Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic, when it was the main opposition party, and she promised to use her first cabinet meetings to mark a clear break in policies with her predecessor.