Italy targets the unvaccinated with new virus restrictions
Rome — Italy targeted the unvaccinated with a host of new coronavirus restrictions Monday, with proof of vaccination or recovery from a recent infection required to enter public transport, coffee shops, hotels, gyms and other everyday activities.
The new “super” health pass requirement, which eliminates the ability to show just a negative test to gain access to services, comes as many Italians return to work and school after the Christmas and New Year's holidays. It came as COVID-19 infections are soaring past 100,000 per day in Italy.
The government has responded to the omicron-fueled wave of infections by passing new restrictions aimed at encouraging vaccine holdouts to get the jabs or be increasingly shut out of recreational and even essential activities, such as taking a bus or subway to work.
Italians have by and large supported the restrictions, which in recent months have also included outdoor mask mandates and a standard health pass to get into workplaces. Many welcomed the new restrictions, which were being enforced Monday by police fanning out at train stations to check passengers' vaccine status and make sure they were wearing the more protective Ffp2 face masks, which were required on public transport as of Monday.
“I’m happy that they are controlling everywhere,” said Carola, Pasqualotto, a member of the Imperi sport center where the front desk was checking members’ vaccination status. “I am in favor of mandatory vaccines for all.”
Premier Mario Draghi, though, has faced criticism for a related decision to mandate vaccinations for anyone 50 and over starting next month. Critics say the fine for noncompliance, which starts at 100 euros ($113), makes the mandate toothless. Draghi is presiding over a press conference later Monday to explain the new measures.
Italy, where the coronavirus outbreak first erupted in Europe in February 2020, has fully vaccinated 86% of the over-12 population, and nearly 75% of those who are eligible have received a booster.
But 2 million people out of Italy’s population of 60 million are currently positive, impacting essential services. School districts have complained they don't have enough teachers to reopen, since so many are positive or in quarantine. Some train service has been curtailed because of labor shortages.
Doctors’ associations, meanwhile, have said the surge is hitting Italy's hospitals hard. Some 16,000 COVID-19 patients are in the hospital and 1,600 are in intensive care, but that is well short of the 4,000 people in intensive care units during the height of the first wave. Officials say around two-thirds of those now hospitalized are unvaccinated.