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OPINION & ANALYSIS

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. 

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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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OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

Choosing which coast to visit in Italy can be a tough call, particularly if you’re planning to spend most of the time sunbathing and swimming. Reporter Silvia Marchetti shares her insights on the pros and cons of both.

OPINION: Is Italy’s west or east coast the best place for a holiday?

The Tyrrhenian west coast and the Adriatic east one are very different, and each come with their pros and cons.

In my view the Tyrrhenian side of the boot wins, because even though it tends to be more crowded due to the many art cities located along it, its beaches have fewer facilities for families and the shores are more ragged, with rocks and cliffs ideal for solo and adventurous young people. 

The Amalfi coast’s picturesque fishermen villages, or Liguria’s Cinque Terre, feature tiny pebble stone bays cut between high cliffs with little space for sun umbrellas and beds.

The Adriatic, on the other hand, is a mass destination for foreign sunbathers, very popular especially among German and Russian tourists. The east coast has Italy’s widest and flattest sandy beaches, which make it an ideal spot for families – but also very crowded. 

READ ALSO: Private lidos take up more than 40 percent of Italian beaches: report

The Adriatic shore is one long line of adjacent beach facilities that run for kilometres from the northern Friuli-Venezia Giulia region down south to Puglia. 

Beaches in the seaside towns of Rimini and Riccione, located along the chaotic Riviera Romagnola renowned also for its wild nightlife, feature up to 50 rows of sun beds and umbrellas in summer.

More sunbeds than sand… Some parts of Italy are heavily built-up with an abundance of services. (Photo by ANDREAS SOLARO / AFP)

Beach facilities there resemble open-air condominiums where there are children’s playgrounds, restaurants, sleeping areas, dance floors and changing rooms for clients.

One good thing, though, is the constant presence of bay watchers and lifeguards at each facility, who are present throughout all eastern coastal regions and very helpful if you don’t constantly want to look after the kids. Beach resorts often come with big seaside multi-floor hotel buildings that look like city offices. 

To escape the crowds on the Adriatic coast you need to pick niche, rocky spots with very few beaches such as the Conero Hill in the Marche region and the Gargano promontory in Puglia.

While the Adriatic coast’s wide and easily accessible beaches are great for children and older people, the sea is not always clear and there are just a few top scuba diving and snorkelling spots, such as the beautiful Tremiti islands.

The Tyrrhenian sea, which is deeper than the Adriatic, is packed with diving sites: Ustica island in Sicily and Ventotene isle in Latium are Italy’s top diving meccas brimming with barracudas and giant groupers.

Tyrrhenian waters are cleaner too: in 2021, its shores won more bandiera blu (Blue flag) awards for high water quality standards than Adriatic beaches.

READ ALSO: Where to find even more of Italy’s best beaches

There are also more protected marine reserves along the west coast, which guarantees a pristine environment, and more free beaches without facilities and lifeguards. While this ‘wild’ aspect may be attractive to many, it could make some beaches not suitable for families with small kids. 

Family friendly beaches tend to draw in more crowds. (Photo by ludovic MARIN / AFP)

On the other hand, given its relatively shallow waters, the Adriatic is blessed with reasonable stocks of fish, so if you long for fishing expeditions it’s the perfect destination. 

However the real plus point of the east coast is its strategic location facing other Mediterranean countries and allowing tourists, particularly from the US, to expand their holidays and exploit Italy as the door to the ‘Old Continent’. From the ports of Bari and Ancona, ferry boats depart to Greece, Slovenia, Croatia and Albania.

The winning asset of the Tyrrhenian, other than its translucent waters and baby powder beaches, is the huge artistic heritage it offers visitors. The west coast boasts the top must-see Italian cities usually picked by global tourists (Rome, Naples, Florence) which all lie, or are close to the sea – except for Venice (the gem of the Adriatic).

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The cultural appeal of the west side makes the central national highway, the A1 – otherwise known as Autostrada del Sole – a very trafficky infrastructure. 

There are also mesmerising fishermen villages with a mythological vibe along the Tyrrhenian coast, such as Gaeta and Sperlonga, where it is said Odysseus, the legendary Greek king, landed during his wanderings.

Plus, most of Italy’s UNESCO heritage-listed sites are located along or near the west shore. For instance, the archaeological excavations of Pompeii are among the top tourist hotspots in Italy.

READ ALSO: Life in Italy in 2022: 10 things to add to your bucket list

Generally speaking, the appeal of popular places along the west coast inevitably translates into more expensive hotels and travelling costs but it depends on the specific location. 

A photo shows a general view of the archaeological site of Pompeii, near Naples. (Photo by Andreas SOLARO / AFP)

The major west coast lure for sea dogs, sailing amateurs and fans of the tan is that nearly all Italian islands are located in the Tyrrhenian sea and reachable from the mainland.

The two island regions of Sardinia and Sicily are accessible by ferry boat from Naples and Civitavecchia, while the Tuscan archipelago, the Pontine islands and Sicily’s dozens of ‘satellites’ such as the Aeolian, Egadi and Pelagie isles are tropical paradises just a stone’s throw from the cultural highlights.

READ ALSO: Ten percent of the world’s best beaches are in Italy

Even though both coasts are stunning and are worth exploring, personally, I’d chose the Tyrrhenian over the Adriatic any day, and not just because I’m a Roman who lives in Rome. 

It has a diversified offer of artistic sites and beaches, inlets and cliffs that allow you to savour the most of Italy in just a few days. 

The last time I rented my beach home south of Rome to a French couple, I thought they’d laze all day under the sultry sun. Instead they drove across half of Italy in 14 day trips, visiting Florence, Naples, Sorrento and Calabria. 

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