OPINION: Covid passports are Italy’s only choice – but they must be a right, not a privilege

The problem with Italy's extended health passport isn't civil liberty or Covid-19 vaccines – it's the fact that Italian bureaucracy is preventing people from getting them, writes British-Italian journalist Adriana Urbano.

OPINION: Covid passports are Italy's only choice - but they must be a right, not a privilege
Protests against Italy’s ‘green pass’ vaccine passport at Milan’s Piazza Duomo on July 24th. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

The Beatles famously sang ‘All You Need Is Love’, but I am starting to think all you really need is the threat of a miserable summer. 

In the 24 hours after Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi announced the expansion of the use of the so-called ‘Green Pass’ in Italy, over half a million Italian residents stormed regional vaccination booking systems. In Lazio the website crashed. Friuli-Venezia-Giulia saw the highest increase, with demand for a jab jumping by 6,000 percent. 

The health pass will certify that holders are either immunised, recovered or tested for Covid-19. Not having it means being barred from indoor eateries, cinemas, gyms, museums, conferences and much more from August 6th. 

EXPLAINED: When, where and why will you need a Covid health passport in Italy?

PM Draghi was clear: the green pass is the only alternative to lockdowns. With the highly infectious Delta variant becoming dominant in Italy, there is no time to waste. 

The aim is clear: curb the spread of the virus, prevent hospitals from being swamped and stave off the virus from evolving into a potentially more dangerous strain. To quote Draghi: “An invitation not to get vaccinated is an invitation to die, or to let others die.”

The announcement set off a predictable wave of dissent.

Navigating the cacophony of vaccine resistance in Italy is like wading through a quagmire. If Dante were still alive, he would create a new circle of hell for the vitriol spewed on social media. 

READ ALSO:  How big is Italy’s anti-vax movement really?

Protests sprang up all over Italy, with many taking place over the last weekend. Some of the largest events were in Rome and Turin, where respectively 3,000 and 5,000 people protested.

In Florence things turned ugly quickly: Fanpage journalist Saverio Tommasi, widely known for his humane video reports, was repeatedly attacked and insulted by protesters, who damaged his camera. The police had to intervene.

The hashtag “health dictatorship” trended on Twitter. The green pass was compared to the Star of David that Jews were forced to wear by the Nazis. Liliana Segre, Holocaust survivor and an Italian senator for life, described the inane comparisons as “folly” and “ignorance”.

Anti-Green Pass protestors in Rome compare themselves to victims of the Holocaust. Photo by Andreas SOLARO/AFP

Things don’t seem to be better in France, where the number of protestors at anti-health passport demonstrations has increased since the French government announced a similar scheme.

Though the debate in Italy has taken terrifying turns, reports show there are actually relatively few anti-vaxxers here. 

A July 2021 report by ResPOnsE Covid-19, a project run by the SPS Trend laboratory at the University of Milan, highlighted that only 5 percent of Italians are against getting the shot, down from 12 percent in December 2020. A total of 85 percent of Italians are pro-jab, and half of the individuals surveyed are in favour of making it compulsory. 

Unpacking vaccine skepticism in Italy means delving into a cocktail of different factors, ranging from widespread lack of faith in authorities, uneven educational attainment, unreliable information, and a questionable understanding of personal freedom.

However, not all unvaccinated people fall under the violent ‘No-Vax’ umbrella. Many are yet to be vaccinated because they are hesitant, whereas others are struggling to access the shot.

As in many other countries, the pandemic has laid bare complex structural failings: the green pass is yet another opportunity for these issues to rear their ugly heads.

OPINION: Bureaucratic barriers must not stop Italy vaccinating its foreign residents

An Italian Red Cross volunteer on duty at a vaccination centre in Rome. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

Poor quality information on the pandemic is a key player. Many Italian contacts have told me ‘non so più a chi credere’ (‘I no longer know who to believe’), expressing exhaustion and confusion, especially after the chaos surrounding potential side effects of the AstraZeneca jab.

The Italian public’s distrust towards the media is also fuelled by it being historically constrained by political interest – Italy has often been classified as having only “partial freedom of press” by the watchdog Freedom House. Needless to say, nothing justifies attacks against journalists. 

To make matters worse, anti-vax campaigns In Italy are an old problem, with fake news on childhood vaccinations long running rampant.  

Addressing the causes of vaccine-resistance here will take years – time we do not have.

The hesitant need to be handled sensitively. But we cannot indulge the idea that doubts rooted in unscientific views are a valid concern when they could spell disaster for the health of so many people. Nor can we promote an idea of freedom that curtails the safety – and liberty – of those who cannot, for whatever reason, receive the life-preserving jab.

Furthermore, another wave of lockdowns would be a terrible blow for a battered Italian economy, hitting the most vulnerable within society. By the end of 2020, the worst hit were short-term workers, the young, the self-employed and women, who account for the majority of jobs lost during the pandemic.

The green pass is a much-needed compromise to re-open the country as safely as possible and stem the trauma and loss that has shattered Italy and beyond.

However, for some, getting the shot is a challenge. A campaign launched by NGO Action Aid highlighted how 300,000 people in Italy are struggling to be registered as residents – a bureaucratic caveat that hinders access to services such as health care, a significant obstacle for vaccination. 

READ ALSO: ‘Be tenacious as hell’: How people in Italy have managed to get vaccinated without a health card

The NGO Emergency had to step in to vaccinate foreign farm labourers in Sicily, who play an important part in the agricultural sector. According to Emergency organiser Ahmedi Echi, there are approximately half a million “invisible people” who were not given the right to access the shot. 

The real question here is who is slipping through the cracks – and how to stop this.

Whether it be social exclusion or legal discrimination, the green pass makes sense only when the shot is truly accessible to all. 

A vaccination centre near Turin. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO/AFP

Even those who can access the shot are experiencing worrying issues.

The vaccine rollout ran at different speeds across the country – meaning many younger people are yet to receive their first shot. Others who are vaccinated but do not have an Italian health card are struggling to download their pass

However, obtaining a healthcare card is also a challenge – something The Local has covered in depth. It involves navigating Italian bureaucracy during a pandemic, with public offices working in fits and starts. For some, caught between the dilemmas of bureaucracy, enrolling has been nigh impossible. 

The introduction of the green pass will also be a test for Italian bureaucracy. So far, it is not looking good.

By the time you read this I will have received my second shot. I consider it a privilege. Not only will I be protected from serious illness and damage to my organs, but I will be part of an armour shielding the most vulnerable in society. 

That is freedom. And it should not be a privilege.

Adriana Urbano is a British-Italian multimedia journalist and editor. She is currently based in Florence.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

After Italy recently removed most Covid-related restrictions, readers have been asking us what exactly to expect on upcoming visits. Here are your questions answered.

Travel in Italy and Covid rules this summer: what to expect

Rules around travel to Italy and within the country have changed multiple times over the past two years. Unsurprisingly, they changed again just over a week ago.

On May 1st, Italy removed nearly all of its Covid-related social restrictions, including the so-called ‘green pass’ (or certificato verde), which was previously required to enter most venues across the country.

READ ALSO: Dining outdoors and hiking: How visitors plan to holiday in Italy this summer 

As the bel paese moves past its former state of emergency and opens up again to international tourism, we asked readers whether they’ll be travelling to Italy this summer. Most said yes, although some of you had doubts and reservations about the Covid restrictions currently in place.

And you had some questions for us, too – mainly about what to expect once you arrive in the country.

Below are our answers, based on the Italian government’s latest decree and the current advice from the health ministry.

If you’re looking for a detailed look at the entry rules when travelling to Italy this summer, please find more information here.

Q: Does Italy still have vaccine requirements in place?

A: A valid Covid vaccination or recovery certificate will be required to enter Italy until at least May 31st, when the current travel rules expire. 

As for travelling within Italy, as of May 1st, a valid health certificate is no longer required to access indoor venues and transport services. All visitors are free to travel across the country and enter restaurants, bars, cinemas, theatres and other indoor locations without having to provide a valid health pass.

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

The only exception is for hospitals and care homes, which will continue to require a ‘green pass’ or its equivalent in the form of a foreign-issued vaccine or recovery certificate until December 2022.

Q: What kind of masks do you have to wear when travelling by train?

A: The use of FFP2 face masks is mandatory on all means of public transport, so not just trains but also buses, ferries and so on. Those equipped with a different type of face covering will be prevented from using the service.

The obligation to wear face masks on public transport will remain in place until at least June 15th.

Please note that FFP2 face masks are also required to enter the following indoor venues: cinemas, theatres, entertainment and sport venues (but not museums or galleries).

READ ALSO: Where do you still need to wear a mask in Italy from May 1st?

Q: Will more restaurants and shops be closed than normal?  

A: No, quite the contrary. After a couple of rather grim years, things are apparently once again looking up for Italian tourism. 

According to a survey from market research institute Demoskopika, the number of domestic and international tourists in Italy is set to rise by 43 percent compared to 2021. The first signs of such expected recovery manifested themselves over the Easter holidays, when some of the most popular Italian tourist destinations recorded ‘pre-pandemic’ numbers of visitors. 

So, to answer the question, most local businesses will look to capitalise on the renewed inflow of both international and national tourists and will therefore keep their doors (and hearts, hopefully) open.

View of the bars in the Navigli area, Milan

After a couple of rather bleak years, bars and restaurants are ready to welcome back international visitors. Photo by Miguel MEDINA / AFP

Q: I’m vaccinated but not ‘boosted’ and want to know if this is acceptable.

A: It is indeed. 

For the sake of clarity, here are the current rules on the topic.

Until at least May 31st when the rules expire (they may either be scrapped or extended after this point; The Local will provide updates when the deadline approaches), travellers may enter the country if they are asymptomatic and can present one of the following:

  • A Covid-19 vaccination certificate recognised by the European Medicines Agency (EMA). Presently, EMA recognises the following vaccines: Pfizer-BioNtech, Moderna, Vaxzevria Johnson and Johnson, Astrazeneca and Novavax. Please keep in mind that the minimum requirement is that you have fully completed the primary vaccination cycle (in this case, your pass will be valid for 9 months). For those who have already received a booster shot, the certificate is valid indefinitely.
  • A valid medical certificate confirming recovery from Covid (this is valid for 6 months from the positive swab test)
  • A negative molecular (PCR) test carried out within 72 hours of arrival in Italy or a rapid antigen test carried out within 48 hours of arrival

As previously mentioned, you won’t need a health pass (nor negative test result) to travel across the country.

Q: What type of health pass is needed for indoor dining from May?

A: None. No vaccination or recovery certificate is required to access bars and restaurants. Face masks are also no longer mandatory. 

Having said that, the use of face coverings in all indoor settings is still “strongly recommended” by the government. Furthermore, some local businesses have chosen to independently enforce stricter rules and only allow people equipped with a face mask to enter their premises.

Q: What are the current restrictions for hotels, restaurants and museums? 

A: There are no Covid-related restrictions (that is, not even face masks) for hotels, restaurants and museums.

However, as mentioned above, some businesses may choose to enforce their own rules and ask customers to wear a face covering. So, keep this in mind before you waltz into your local grocery store without a mask.

Musei Capitolini in Rome

Health certificates are no longer required to enter indoor venues, including museums and galleries. Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP

Q: What are the isolation rules if you test positive while visiting Italy?

A: If you test positive for Covid during your trip, you will have to self-isolate at your existing accommodation and notify the relevant local authorities (Aziende Sanitarie Locali, ASL) as soon as possible.

The Italian quarantine instructions are a bit of a head-scratcher, therefore we’ll try to summarise them as follows:

  • Those who have received a ‘booster shot’, have completed the first vaccination cycle no more than 120 days prior to testing positive or have recovered from Covid no more than 120 days prior to testing positive will be required to self-isolate for at least seven days. 
  • All others will be required to self-isolate for at least 10 days, regardless of whether they are symptomatic or asymptomatic.

You’ll be able to exit your quarantine period by taking a molecular (PCR) or rapid antigen test.

READ ALSO: How tourists and visitors can get a coronavirus test in Italy

However, note that you will only be allowed to take such tests if you’ve shown no symptoms in the three days prior to the supposed date of the test. If you have, your self-isolation period will be extended. 

For instance, if you’re supposed to get tested on the tenth day of your quarantine but show symptoms on the ninth, you’ll only be able to get tested on the twelfth.

Please note that The Local cannot advise on specific cases. For more information about how the rules may apply to you, see the Italian Health Ministry’s website or consult the Italian embassy in your country.

You can keep up with the latest updates via our homepage or Italian travel news section.