OPINION: Italy’s Covid health pass is a necessary step – but what’s next?

Italy's Covid-19 health certificate has been implemented fairly smoothly and has so far faced little resistance. But with the document now becoming a requirement for many parts of everyday life, writer Richard Hough in Verona asks what effect this could have in the longer term.

OPINION: Italy’s Covid health pass is a necessary step - but what’s next?
For Italy's residents, the obligation to carry identity documents is nothing new. Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

Carta d’identita, tessera sanitaria, permesso di soggiorno, patente di guida… the list of documents essential for everyday living in Italy is long, and now the certificazione verde is set to join the pile.

In a bid to boost vaccination coverage and keep infection rates down, the Italian government has announced its intention to make the health certificate (also known as the ‘green pass’) obligatory for all employees in both the public and private sectors from next month. 

Since it was launched in the summer, the green pass – which indicates that the holder is vaccinated, recovered, or has had a recent negative coronavirus test – has already been necessary in order to access certain public places including stadiums, libraries, and museums.

EXPLAINED: How Italy will enforce the new ‘green pass’ rules in all workplaces

My experience of the system so far is that its implementation has been relatively straightforward and light-touch (though I know that experience hasn’t been shared by everyone). Of course, that could all change when the enhanced system is rolled out, but I’ve seen nothing to suggest that the system will flounder under the increased stress of its wider application. 

For the technologically literate, it’s relatively simple to generate your green pass and install it on your phone, assuming, of course, you’ve been able to access the vaccination programme in the first place. 

Undoubtedly some will require assistance grappling with the technology, but with printed copies of the pass also acceptable, there is no reason (in theory at least) for anyone to be left behind. 

Passengers show their health passes while boarding a high-speed Frecciarossa train in Rome. Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

I carry a PDF version of the document on my phone, and that has been sufficient to satisfy any demands for it that I have encountered so far. In the early days, I also carried a printed copy, in case of any technological mishaps, but I haven’t yet suffered that inevitable indignity.

In reality, I’ve only been asked to show my pass on a handful of occasions – most notably, to access the library and to enter the cavernous Stadio Bentegodi to cheer on Hellas Verona, my local team. I’ve also been asked to show my pass at a couple of bars, those murky places I tend to frequent that have indoor-only space. 

Of course, there’s no requirement to have a green pass if you’re eating or drinking all’aperto [outdoors], and the whole procedure, if you can even describe it as such, is simple, efficient and discreet, with bar staff acting with admirable good-faith, common sense and discretion. In some cases, it’s enough to simply affirm that you have the pass, without actually showing it. In others, a quick glance is all that’s required. 

READ ALSO: Where do you now need to show a Covid green pass in Italy?

At the stadium and the library, a more ‘thorough’ ID check is performed, to ensure that the name on your green pass matches the name on your ID, but again it’s hardly an onerous process.

Of course, documents are a way of life here in Italy. Italians, in common with most other developed nations, are long-accustomed to having a mandatory system of identification.  

Along with the ubiquitous codice fiscale [tax code], Italians go nowhere without their carta d’identità, and are accustomed to having to produce it (to pick up a parcel from the post office or to check into a hotel, for example). 

Indeed, the concept of a society, such as the United Kingdom, that doesn’t have a mandatory system of identification is completely alien to your average Italian. When I occasionally explain to students that no such system exists in the UK, I am generally met with profound befuddlement and disbelief: “But….but…” they stammer, “How do you prove who you are?” 

The libertarian notion that in a free society you shouldn’t have to prove who you are is a completely alien concept to them.

So, in a society in which procuring documents and proving your status is practically a national pastime, one extra form to remember shouldn’t cause too much controversy. 


The most persistent argument I’ve heard against the green pass is that it is the thin end of a creeping wedge of Covid-enabled authoritarianism. First, we were asked to have the vaccine, then it became a necessity. Now, we must prove that we’ve had it in order to go about our daily lives. Where does it end? There’s even a third dose in the pipeline now. Will that too become mandatory?

Indeed, there is a risk that some of the measures unrolled during the pandemic will prove very tricky to roll back, as big business and bureaucrats alike cling on to systems and procedures that have yielded an easy profit or a systemic benefit.

Italian cities have seen scattered protests against the green pass requirement in recent months. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

The library, for example, is one place where the new system may have delivered some net gains for the institution, at the expense of the fundamental freedoms of the user. 

After 18 months, it’s only in recent weeks that Verona’s Biblioteca Civica has reopened its doors to users. To access the building, its archives and reading rooms, you now need to use an app to book a four-hour slot. On arrival your temperature is checked, as well as your green pass and identity card. 

Once a haven for the destitute and the lonely (I occasionally fell into that category myself), the enhanced checks in place at the library undoubtedly have a chilling effect for the casual user, a consequence of which is that access is now restricted to the most avid scholars and researchers (and me). 

I can see why maintaining that approach may appeal to library administrators long after the Covid pandemic passes, but I hope that the library will once again become the welcoming, non-judgemental place it once was.

Meanwhile, after everything we’ve been through these past 18 months – long periods of virtual house arrest, home-schooling, profound limitations on our movement, crippling restrictions on our work life, and isolation from loved ones and family – having to carry a simple piece of paper to show that we’ve been vaccinated seems like a small price to pay. But I can’t help but wonder what’s coming next.

READ ALSO: ‘What it was like travelling home to the UK from Italy after two years’

Richard Hough has lived in Verona since September 2011 and writes about the region’s history, football, wine and culture. His new book, Rita’s War, a true story of persecution, resistance and heroism from wartime Italy, is available here. He is currently writing his next book about wartime Verona.

Member comments

  1. Would you have any updates on when is the likelihood of them accepting other vaccines like Covishield (Astra-Zeneca manufactured in India)? The mandatory green pass without acceptance of foreign vaccines will be punitive for people who followed the rules but have shitty luck in general.

  2. I’ve also read that the European Union expects Novavax to be available around October 2021. Are you seeing any updates on this vaccine being available? Especially in Florence?

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TRAVEL: How to spot Italy’s ‘fake authentic’ tourist villages

Ever visited a picture-perfect Italian village that felt too idyllic to be real? There's a reason for that, says reporter Silvia Marchetti.

TRAVEL: How to spot Italy’s ‘fake authentic’ tourist villages

Italy’s many beautifully authentic, ancient villages are a major reason why foreigners flock here, fall in love with the lifestyle, and often settle down for good. 

But in some places, that ‘dolce vita’ feel can be so well-fabricated that it is just fake.

It might have happened to you that while visiting an apparently idyllic borgo, or village, you felt there was something totally off with it; be it the neat windows, the empty, shuttered houses, the lack of locals around. Maybe it was so picture-perfect it seemed unreal.

There are places that have been totally restyled and hence lost their soul, and are just mere tourist postcards that contribute to distorting the real image of Italy abroad. 

They appear to be medieval, but even if they do date back centuries they’ve been given such a thorough makeover that everything is tidy and shiny, giving you the impression of being on a movie set.

MAP: The ‘best’ Italian villages to visit this year

I’ve visited some of these villages, and what hit me was the attempt to recreate that ancient vibe just to fool visitors – while at the same time destroying what Italy’s authentic villages are all about.

Most have been elegantly restyled. This is positive given they might have otherwise ended up in the grave as ghost hamlets, but the extreme ‘maquillage’ has killed the original spirit of the place.

The ancient village of Castelfalfi, in Tuscany, dates back to pre-Roman, Etruscan times and is – was – a jewel. Following massive real estate investments it has turned into a luxury retreat for wealthy foreigners looking to bask under the Tuscan sun. 

Pretty as a picture – but where is everyone? Castelfalfi, Tuscany. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

During winter everything is shut, boutiques sell modern things and signs are written in English. The vast estate, formerly belonging to aristocrats, has been transformed into a huge golf club, and local residents are nowhere to be seen. There’s even a high-end restaurant in the castle tower for lavish meals. But no matter how beautiful it is, it gave me a feeling of sadness and emptiness.

I think places like this feed and recreate that stereotypical idea of a typical rural Italian setting, of elegant mansions with pools, ceramic boutiques and flower shops.

Nearby the village of Certaldo di Castro is another example of a fake old-style spot. It is indeed medieval and is famous for being the hometown of Italian poet Boccaccio: his museum-house is a must-see and the main highlight. You get to admire his room, bed, slippers and nightgown – that’s why I visited.

OPINION: Why Italy must put its forgotten ‘ghost towns’ up for sale – or risk losing them forever

But other than that, it seems like the whole village has been rebuilt solely on Boccaccio’s legacy – there are just a few bars, restaurants, and B&Bs. No real village buzz, no elders sitting on benches. Last time I went, and it was during Christmas, most places were closed and I ended up eating a panino. 

The reddish roads and brick tile roofs have been perfectly fixed as per medieval style, and the chapels are also stunning. But life seems to have been frozen in time when Bocaccio inhabited it.

Certaldo di Castro has impressive medieval history but no village life. Photo: Silvia Marchetti

I recently drove hundreds of miles to explore what has been named as one of Italy’s most beautiful towns, Greccio. I found a ghost town.

It was perfectly renovated, but all shutters were down and not one single resident could be spotted. There were just holidaymakers having picnics on benches.

The streets were super clean. The stone walls were covered in paintings by local artists, hailing peace and friendship among countries; images that have nothing to do with the town’s old roots, nor character.

I must say it was a real disappointment. It surely is one of those places that come to life on weekends or during summer, when people visit. It is not ‘vissuto‘, as Italians would say, meaning it is not ‘lived’.

In the Tiber valley, the Calcata hamlet is a top destination for Romans looking for a weekend escape. The village is aesthetically charming, shaped like a giant mushroom jutting out of a deep green chasm. It’s perched on a reddish-brown hilltop overlooking a pristine river, with cave houses, moss-covered cobbled alleys, tunnels and wall openings overlooking a thick jungle-like canyon. 

READ ALSO: Mass tourism is back in Italy – but the way we travel is changing

But the original residents no longer live there and it’s become a ghetto of hippies and artists who each weekend come to turn it into an Italian-style Halloween village. Witchy objects, pumpkins and puppets are everywhere, while souvenir shops and boutiques sell weird, spooky amulets. Benches and doors are painted in bright colors and restaurants prepare exotic dishes.

This has killed the original old vibe, and though I love the scenery, I dislike the ambiance and village decor, which has nothing to do with its history.

Calcata is very similar to Civita di Bagnoregio, also in the Lazio region, dubbed the ‘dying city’ as soil erosion could make it crumble any day. 

Civita is world-famous for its dramatic scenery: sitting on a rock surrounded by a precipice, one single narrow bridge connects it to the mainland. I visited it several times: ten years ago it was lively. 

READ ALSO: Ten must-see places within reach of Rome

Two years ago, it was Easter, and I found a dead city. Just three locals going up and down the bridge, and a colony of hungry cats. It’s just luxury expensive B&B’s, taverns, souvenir boutiques and spots for selfie addicts. Artists and VIPs use it as their lair, yet despite its breathtaking beauty there’s really not much left.

I stayed the night once and ended up taking the car and driving to the nearest town for a slice of pizza for dinner because I couldn’t find an open trattoria.

If you can’t find so much as a single tavern open, no matter which day you visit, and if you don’t overhear some chit-chat among local grannies or some gossip at the bar, then you’ve likely landed in a ‘fake-authentic’ Italian borgo: perfect but unreal.