Thousands march in Rome to protest workplace vaccine rule

Frances D'Emilio
Associated Press

Rome – Thousands of demonstrators marched down Rome’s Via Veneto and other main streets on Saturday, many clashing with police, to protest a government rule requiring COVID-19 vaccines or recent negative tests to access workplaces starting next week.

The certification in Italy, known as a “Green Pass,” takes effect on Friday and applies to public and private workplaces. The protesters first held a noisy, authorized protest Saturday in Piazza Del Popolo. Then demonstrators left the vast square and clashed with police as they headed through nearby Villa Borghese Park and then down Via Veneto in an unauthorized march.

Police in helmets and carrying shields and batons blocked them from marching down a street that runs past Premier Mario Draghi’s office. But a group of protesters broke off and headed down another street in Rome’s historic main shopping district that ends near the premier’s office. Police formed a line, aided by police vans, and sprayed water to thwart access to the seat of the Italian government.

People gather in Piazza del Popolo square during a protest, in Rome, Saturday, Oct. 9, 2021.

Many protesters raised clenched fists or waved Italian flags and shouted “Freedom!” One banner read “Get your hands off (our) work.”

Rai State TV said demonstrators numbered at least 10,000, while organizers said they numbered 100,000. At least one protester was injured, RAI said.

Among the protesters were proponents of an extreme right-wing group, Forza Nuova, Rai and Corriere della Sera said.

Employees entering a workplace must have a “Green Pass.’’ To obtain one, people must either have had at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose, document recovery from the illness in the last six months, or test negative for the virus in the previous 48 hours.

Both employees and employers risk fines if they don’t comply. Workers in the public sector can be suspended if they show up five times without a Green Pass.

During the summer, Green Passes were already required in Italy to enter museums, theaters, gyms and indoor restaurants, as well as to take long-distance trains and buses or domestic flights. Local mass transit is exempt.

Draghi’s government has credited the Green Pass requirement for workplaces for a surge of vaccinations.

As of Saturday, 80% of those 12 and older in Italy and thus eligible for the COVID-19 vaccine have been fully vaccinated.

More protests against the workplace Green Pass requirement took place Saturday in other Italian cities, including Milan and Trento.