Covid green pass: Italy braces for protests as workplace requirement begins

Italy braced for protests, blockades and potential disruption on Friday as a requirement for all workers to show a Covid-19 health certificate came into effect.

As of Friday morning all employees in Italy must show a green pass to access their workplace or face being declared absent without pay.
As of Friday morning all employees in Italy must show a green pass to access their workplace or face being declared absent without pay. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO/AFP

All employees in either the public or private sector must show the health certificate, known as the green pass, offering proof of vaccination, recent recovery from Covid-19 or a negative test result – or face being declared absent without pay.

READ ALSO: How Italy is enforcing the new workplace green pass rules from Friday

The requirement has already been in place for school and university employees and care home workers since September, and a vaccine mandate has been in place since April for anyone working in healthcare, including in pharmacies and doctors’ offices.

The certificate has also been required since August 6th to enter most cultural, entertainment and leisure venues in the country.

More than 86 percent of Italians over the age of 12 have received at least one jab, thus automatically qualifying for the pass.

But up to five million adults of working age are estimated to be unvaccinated – and most will only be able to work if they pay for their own tests either every 48 or 72 hours, depending on the type.

This number appears to include many in the freight industry – and with many angry at the new rules and refusing to comply, there are fears of economic disruption.

Ivano Russo, director general of Confetra, a trade group, told AFP that out of a total of 900,000 truck drivers, couriers and warehouse staff employed by members of his lobby, “25-30 percent” do not have Covid certificates.

Dock workers in Trieste, a major port in the northeast, have threatened to go on strike indefinitely despite being offered free Covid tests.

The same privilege has been extended to some dockers in Genoa, in the northwest.

“The real problem with the green pass for the port of Genoa, in general for all ports, will be road haulage,” Roberto Gulli of the Uil trade union told La Repubblica newspaper.

“There could be chaos on Friday.”

Public protests against the measure are also expected on Friday, sparking concerns that there could be a repeat of the violent clashes involving far-right militants seen in Rome last weekend.

Thousands of people gather in the Piazza Del Popolo to protest an expansion of Italy's 'green pass' system.

Thousands of people gathered in the Piazza Del Popolo to protest an expansion of Italy’s ‘green pass’ system on Saturday Ocober 9th. Photo: Tiziana FABI/AFP

The anti-vaccine and anti-green pass movement is planning further protests on Saturday while unions are preparing for a big anti-fascist rally in Rome. 

READ ALSO: What’s behind Italy’s anti-vax protests and neo-fascist violence?

More than 560,000 green passes were downloaded on Wednesday, according to government data.

There was no information available about whether those passes were generated based on vaccinations or testing.

Health ministry figures released last week showed that the number of first jabs continued to decline, while the rate of rapid testing was on the rise.

A survey published on Thursday found that some 55 percent of the population supports the introduction of the green pass rule in workplaces.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s government has defended the green pass system as necessary for avoiding further lockdowns or closures in Italy, where the economy is expected to record almost six percent growth this year after a devastating Covid-induced recession.

Ministers looked unlikely to concede to calls for free Covid tests for all, but the Ansa news agency reported that they were considering larger tax breaks for firms that pay for testing.

READ ALSO: How long will Italy keep the Covid green pass requirement in place?

So far, unlike neighbouring France, Italy has not offered widespread free testing to the population.

Proposals that the state should give free tests to those who refuse the vaccine have proven divisive in the country.

Roberto Burioni, Professor of Virology at Milan’s San Raffaele University and one of Italy’s most prominent health experts, on Thursday slammed the idea of funding tests for those who decline vaccination as “state complacency towards those who have not done their duty, and disrespect towards those who have done it.”

Employees who are unable to receive a coronavirus vaccine due to a certified medical condition are exempt from the requirement to produce a green pass at work.

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Italian government begins talks on Covid ‘super green pass’

Italy is set to tighten the rules on its health certificate scheme from December as Covid-19 contagion and hospitalisation rates continue to rise.

Employees in Italy must show Covid health passes to access workplaces.
Employees in Italy must show Covid health passes to access workplaces - but are the rules about to get stricter? Photo: Marco Bertorello/AFP

Note: This article is no longer being updated. Please find the latest news here.

Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi will hold a meeting with regional leaders on Monday evening, beginning several days of talks on a new government decree which is expected to be announced by Friday, reports national broadcaster Rai.

As the health situation has worsened across Italy in recent weeks – particularly in the north-eastern regions of Friuli Venezia Giulia, Veneto and the autonomous province of Bolzano – leaders of local governments are increasingly pushing for new measures, mainly in the form of further restrictions on the unvaccinated under a so-called “super green pass” scheme.

KEY POINTS: Italy’s new plans to contain the Covid fourth wave

Italy began rolling out its health certificate or ‘green pass’ for domestic use in August, initially making it a requirement at many leisure and cultural venues such as cinemas and indoor restaurants, before extending its use to workplaces and some forms of public transport. 

The certificate shows that the bearer has been vaccinated against Covid-19, has recovered from the disease within the last six months, or has tested negative in the last few days.

Instead, the proposed ‘super green pass’ would only be issued to those who are vaccinated or recovered, with passes issued based on testing in future only valid for entry to workplaces.

Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP

While no concrete decisions have yet been made, sources within the health ministry have indicated that it is considering the measure for any region declared a higher-risk ‘orange’ zone.

“Closures and restrictions must not be paid for by the vaccinated,” said Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa, adding that the ‘super green pass’ plan would “guarantee the unvaccinated access to workplaces and basic needs, but certain activities such as going to a restaurant, cinema or theatre should be reserved for the vaccinated if the situation worsens.”

“It is clear that we must bring in new initiatives,” he said in an interview with Sky TG24 on Sunday.

EXPLAINED: Will Italy bring in a Covid lockdown for the unvaccinated?

At the moment all of Italy remains in the lowest-risk ‘white’ zone, with few health measures in place.

However several regions are now nearing the thresholds at which they would be moved into the ‘yellow’ zone next week, and – if the situation continues to worsen – then risk being placed under orange zone restrictions two weeks later.

Costa said a planned third dose obligation for health workers “is already foreseen and I think it will be approved this week.”

Health Minister Roberto Speranza put forward proposals last week to make third doses obligatory for the healthcare staff already subject to a vaccine requirement, and also to cut the validity of Italy’s Covid-19 health certificate – the so-called green pass – from 12 to nine months for people who are vaccinated, including with a third dose.

READ ALSO: Italy to start Covid boosters for over-40s on Monday as infection rate rises

The changes have not yet been formally approved, but are expected to come in from December 1st under the planned new decree set to be signed into law by the end of the week.

Other measures the government is reportedly considering include cutting the validity of green passes based on PCR test results from 72 to 48 hours, and those from the results of rapid testing will be reduced from 48 to 24 hours.

There have also been calls from health experts and regional leaders to stop issuing green passes based on rapid test results altogether, as these are less reliable than the results of a PCR test.