Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Monday afternoon signed a new ordinance updating some of the rules on using the Covid-19 health certificate, or green pass, on public transport.
Taxis face stricter passenger limits and trains can be stopped if any passengers show suspected Covid symptoms, according to the ordinance seen by news agency Ansa.
Train staff should now verify passengers’ health passes before boarding and not after during ticket inspections, as has been the case so far, in stations “where this is possible”.
The checks will be carried out at major train stations with ticket barriers, including Rome Termini and Florence Santa Maria Novella, Ansa reports.
The rules apply to long-distance and interregional train passengers, but not to those taking local services.
The ordinance also reportedly states that railway police and local health authorities can stop any train on which passengers are found to ‘present symptoms attributable to the coronavirus” and the train company will need to “sanitise the train before putting it back into operation”.
Taxi drivers are required to have a valid green pass and instructed to wear surgical-grade masks, as well as to “avoid” letting passengers sit in the front seat.
Only two passengers can sit in the back of a taxi, the ordinance says, “if not members of the same family unit”.
Ministers are also reportedly planning to tighten the green pass rules further, potentially from December, amid the recent sharp rise in the contagion rate.
Italy’s green pass, a requirement at workplaces, indoor resturants and leisure venues and on some forms of public transport, is available to those who are vaccinated, recovered, or have tested negative, either with a PCR test or a rapid (antigenic) swab test.
Changes being discussed reportedly include reducing the validity of passes for the vaccinated from one year to nine months.
The validity of passes issued following a negative PCR test result may also be cut from 72 to 48 hours, and those from the results of rapid testing will be reduced from 48 to 24 hours, reports Italian newspaper Corriere della Sera.
The Italian government has not confirmed this, however, and it was not included in Monday’s ordinance.
Photo: Andreas Solaro/AFP
On Monday, Health Undersecretary Andrea Costa played down reports that the rules were being tightened further and said the health situation in in Italy was “under control”.
“We should look to the coming weeks with confidence while being aware that we certainly have not emerged from the pandemic,” he told Radio 24.
But he added that Covid vaccines could still become obligatory for some, under plans the government has been considering since late summer.
Ministers have repeatedly indicated that Italy is unlikely to face new restrictions on travel and business openings like those seen during the Christmas ‘red zone’ lockdown last year.
The picture is very different this time, health experts say, with infection and hospitalisation rates markedly lower by comparison and the vast majority of the population vaccinated.
Instead, this year Italian authorities will continue to rely on the Covid green pass system and widening vaccination coverage in order to keep infection and hospitalisation rates down and businesses open.
As the pass became a requirement at all workplaces in October, the Italian government refused to cover the cost of testing for employees who decline vaccination, but instead began issuing passes based on the results of rapid swab tests as well as the more accurate – and expensive – PCR tests.
Those who choose not to be vaccinated must currently pay for a rapid test every 48 hours or face suspension from work.
But health experts have expressed concern that issuing passes based on rapid test results could be partly fuelling the recent rise in infections.
Walter Ricciardi, a professor of hygiene and preventive medicine and a health advisor to the Italian government, said last week that the green pass system needs to be “corrected”.
Making the pass available using rapid tests “gives a false sense of security”, he said, as they have a 30 percent false negative rate.
“Especially with the Delta variant, if you enter a place where there are susceptible people, with a false negative test result, infection occurs.”
As Italy’s hospitalisation rates have begun rising again in recent weeks, health experts are once again warning people to avoid socialising if they’re not vaccinated and to continue to wear masks in public.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza on Sunday warned that the scale of the fourth wave will depend on individuals’ behaviour.
“My recommendation is to use masks as much as possible, because the situation over the next few weeks is insidious,” he said.
What about travel restrictions?
France on Monday tightened entry rules for unvaccinated visitors from a number of EU countries, and many people are now wondering whether Italy may do the same.
Italy’s current set of travel rules is in place until December 15th, meaning there is scope for the government to change the rules shortly before the holidays.
However at this stage there are no reports which suggest the Italian government is discussing any changes to the rules.
At the moment, restrictions on travel to Italy from most countries are minimal for those who are vaccinated.