Surge in sick days after Italy brings in workplace Covid green pass rule

The number of workers taking sick days has risen sharply in Italy since the introduction last week of mandatory health certificates for all employees, official data showed Thursday.

There have been protests against Italy's new 'green pass' requirement at workplaces.
Calling in sick is one way to avoid following Italy's new 'green pass' requirement at work. Photo: Marco BERTORELLO / AFP

Italy’s so-called ‘green passes’ have been compulsory for access to the workplace since October 15th, under some of the strictest health rules in Europe.

Figures provided to AFP by the national welfare agency INPS show that on October 15th more than 94,100 people called in sick – 28 percent more than in the previous week.

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

The following Monday, around 192,000 people were off work, compared to some 165,000 seven days earlier.

Calling in sick is one way for workers who do not want to comply with the new requirements to avoid the punishment of being suspended on no pay.

Green passes are available to everyone who is vaccinated or recently recovered from Covid-19, but can also be obtained by getting a negative test, at the person’s own expense.

Government figures show a spike in the number of green passes issued following a negative test result, with almost 915,000 on Monday, some 600,000 on Tuesday and around 800,000 on Wednesday.

During October 11-13, the daily figures ranged between 292,000 and 369,500.

Around nine in ten green passes issued last week were based on a negative test result, rather than vaccination – though there was also a slight uptick in the number of first doses administered.

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

Thousands of dock workers meanwhile went on strike on Friday as they protested the measure, and smaller pockets of resistance were also reported in other cities.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi has defended the green pass as a way to boost vaccination rates and avoid further lockdowns.

The pandemic “is under control” thanks to all the Italians who got inoculated, including those “who chose to do it in the last weeks, overcoming their hesitations,” Draghi said on Wednesday. 

Almost 86 percent of the population over the age of 12 has received at least one vaccine jab, and almost 82 percent have now been fully vaccinated.

Italy has been one of the countries worst hit by the pandemic, but infection rates have dropped and remained low in recent months as vaccination rates increased.

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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.