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COVID-19 VACCINES

‘More vaccines or new closures’: Italy to decide on mandatory jabs this month, say ministers

The Italian government will decide by the end of September whether vaccines will become mandatory for all people aged 12 and over, ministers said on Sunday.

‘More vaccines or new closures’: Italy to decide on mandatory jabs this month, say ministers
Photo: Lluis Gene/AFP

After Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi confirmed on Thursday that the government is looking at making Covid-19 vaccinations obligatory, ministers said plans are to be outlined in the coming weeks and will depend on the epidemiological situation and the vaccination rate during September.

“If we haven’t reached a vaccination level of between 80% and 90%, we will pass a law to impose the Covid-19 vaccine on all people who are against it,” Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta said on Sunday, according to reports from Bloomberg. “We will decide by the end of the month.”

READ ALSO: Why September will be the ‘decisive’ month for Italy’s Covid vaccination campaign

Health Minister Roberto Speranza was less specific about the potential timeframe in an interview with newspaper Corriere della Sera on Sunday, saying only that a vaccine obligation “will be evaluated as the weeks go by.”

He stressed that obligatory vaccination was “not an already decided and certain choice” for the Italian government, “but a tool that we have and, if necessary, it will be implemented.”

The minister added that he “very much appreciated the strength and rigour with which [Prime Minister Draghi] has chosen to bet all our chips on the vaccination campaign.”

Draghi confirmed Italy’s plans to make vaccines mandatory in answer to a question from journalists about whether mandatory vaccination “can be introduced” once EMA and AIFA (the European and Italian drug regulators) have given full authorization for the use of Covid-19 vaccines.

READ ALSO: Third doses and mandatory jabs: What’s next for Italy’s Covid vaccination campaign?

But Speranza on Sunday said that the government may not wait that long.

“The final approval from the EMA would make everything easier,” Speranza said, “but vaccines are already safe and therefore it can also be done without, as it was for healthcare staff.”

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi. Photo: Roberto MONALDO/POOL /AFP

As opponents to the plan pointed out this weekend, no other European country has yet made vaccinations compulsory for the general public.

But Speranza said the Italian government would go ahead with the plans “without fear” if it becomes necessary “in the defence of the right to health and the need to avoid new deprivations of freedom”.

“We were the first [to introduce] the vaccine obligation for healthcare workers, and then France and numerous other countries followed us,” he said.

In April, Italy was the first European country to bring in a legal vaccination requirement for all healthcare workers, meaning those who refuse to be vaccinated can be suspended without pay. As of September 1st, all school staff in Italy must also show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test result.

Despite protests from hundreds of unvaccinated health staff across the country, so far most appeals against the measure have reportedly been denied.

At the moment Italy’s coronavirus infection and hospitalisation rates overall remain stable and relatively low, and most Italian regions remain under minimal restrictions in the low-risk ‘white’ zone.

But Speranza warned that the return to school and work in September will lead to an increase in infections.

“The vaccine is the tool to avoid new restrictive measures,” he stressed. “The virus still exists, it is strong and circulating.”

“Either the vaccination campaign is further strengthened, or one is forced to imagine that at some point it will be necessary to use measures from the past,” he said.

Asked if that meant a return to lockdowns or ‘red’ zones, he said that the vaccination campaign must continue “or we will have to think about new closures.”

Since early August, Italy has been requiring many leisure and cultural venues to ensure that visitors and customers can show proof of vaccination, recovery or a negative test result under its ‘green pass’ scheme – which Draghi said at the time was the “only alternative” to renewed restrictions.

EXPLAINED: How Italy has tightened the ’green pass’ rules in September

Italy’s health authorities are aiming to have 80 percent of the population over the age of 12 vaccinated by the end of September.

Several government ministers have reportedly been pushing for the legal vaccination requirement to be extended amid concerns that the country may not be able to reach the stated target this month.

The health minister also announced on Thursday that third doses would be made available from this month to the clinically vulnerable, while several Italian regions began offering first doses without appointment in recent weeks as part of the nationwide effort to increase the vaccination rate.

Just over 71 percent of eligible people in Italy have had at least one dose as of Monday, while 63 percent are now fully vaccinated, official figures show.

For more information about the current coronavirus situation and health measures in Italy please see the official health ministry website (in English).

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COVID-19 RULES

Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Masks will no longer be required in the workplace but Italian companies will have the right to impose restrictions for employees deemed "at risk".

Italy lifts mask mandate for private sector workers

Representatives from the Italian Ministry of Labour, Ministry of Health and all major national unions collectively signed off on Thursday a new “shared protocol” (protocollo condiviso) for the implementation of anti-Covid measures in private workplaces. 

Although the full text of the bill will only be made available to the public sometime next week, portions of the document have already been released to the media, thus disclosing the government’s next steps in the fight against the virus.

The most relevant update concerns face masks, which will no longer be mandatory in private workplaces. 

However, the text specifies, FFP2 face masks remain “an important protective item aimed at safeguarding workers’ health”. As such, employers will have the right to autonomously impose the use of face coverings on categories of workers considered “at risk”.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Notably, face coverings may remain mandatory for those working in “indoor settings shared by multiple employees” or even in “outdoor settings where social distancing may not be practicable”. Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions (soggetti fragili) may also be subject to such rules, which, it is worth reminding, are left to the employer’s discretion. 

Alongside mask-related restrictions, employers will also have the right to have their staff undergo temperature checks prior to entering the workplace. In such cases, anyone with a body temperature higher than 37.5C will be denied access to the workplace and will be asked to temporarily self-isolate pending further indications from their own doctor.

In line with previous measures, companies will be required to continue supplying sanitising products free of charge and regulate access to common areas (canteens, smoking areas, etc.) so as to avoid gatherings.

Additionally, employers will be advised to keep incentivising smart working (lavoro agile), as it has proved to be “a valuable tool to curb infection, especially for at-risk individuals”.

Provided that the country’s infection curve registers no significant changes, the updated protocol will remain in place until October 31st, when it will yet again be reviewed by the relevant governmental and social parties. 

With the latest round of measures, Italy has now scrapped all Covid-related health measures, except the requirement to wear face masks on public transport (though not on planes) and in healthcare settings, and self-isolation provisions for those testing positive. 

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

Italy’s infection curve has been rising significantly since the beginning of June. From June 1st to June 14th, Covid’s R (spreading rate) rate rose back over 1 for the first time since April 8th. Also, from June 17th to June 23rd, the virus’s incidence rate was 504 cases every 100,000 residents, up by 62 per cent on the previous week.

According to Claudio Mastroianni, Professor of Infectious Diseases at Sapienza University of Rome, “with 25 per cent of daily Covid swabs coming back positive and a R rate over 1, the infection curve will likely rise at least until mid-July”.

However, albeit acknowledging the rising number of positive cases, Deputy Health Minister Andrea Costa has so far categorically excluded the possibility of re-introducing lapsed Covid measures, saying that it’ll be a “restriction-free summer”.

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