Protesters took to the streets of Italy on Friday to express their anger at the introduction of mandatory workplace Covid-19 health passes, one of the strictest measures to fight the disease imposed by a European country.
The new rules require all workers show a “green pass” that proves they have either been fully vaccinated, or have tested negative for coronavirus within the previous 48 hours.
On Friday, the day the regulations came into force, demonstrators blocked access to the port areas of Genoa, Ancona and Trieste and held street protests in Rome and Milan. A small sit-in was also held outside the Sigonella Italian air force base in Sicily organised by the Siam air force trade union.
“Having to pay to go to work, under the threat of blackmail for your salary, cannot be a tool to contain the pandemic,” the union said in a statement on its Facebook page about the protests.
The government believes the tougher measures will prompt an estimated 3.8m unvaccinated Italian workers to get a jab. But the move has been met with fierce resistance from a small but vocal number of protesters who claim the rules infringe their rights.
Speaking before the measure was introduced on Friday, Joachim Oberrauch, a 51-year-old high school teacher from Bolzano, said he had been suspended from his job because he had not been inoculated and was angered by the new rules.
“I didn’t get the vaccine because I don’t trust all this chaos and miscommunication that has been going on from the start of the pandemic until now,” he said. “I don’t trust ‘big pharma’, and as of today the news about vaccines has been quite contradictory and confusing, so I decided to postpone it or wait for another vaccine to become available that I am not afraid of.”
More than 80 per cent of all Italians over the age of 12 have received a Covid-19 vaccine, with Mario Draghi’s government after a slow start having turned the country into one of the vaccine leaders of Europe. Any public or private sector worker who breaks the rules risks being fined €1,500, while employers face fines if they fail to enforce the new measures.
In the build-up to the new rules coming in, there have been violent demonstrations in Rome and elsewhere. Last week supporters of the fringe neo-fascist party Forza Nuova attempted to force their way into the prime minister’s official residence, as well as ransacking the offices of one of Italy’s largest trade unions, resulting in 12 arrests.
Some workers are likely to face difficulties not because they have refused to be vaccinated but because they received a jab that has not been approved in the EU.
Giulia Sorrentino, 34, recently returned to Italy after five years in Russia, where she worked as a university lecturer. She got two shots of Sputnik V in Moscow before coming back. Because the Russian vaccine is not recognised by the European Medicines Agency, she says she is “dismayed” by the government’s move.
“When I came back the green pass limitations were much softer, it was summer, there was a lot of outside living, and I could more or less do everything I wanted,” she said. “I was also quite optimistic about the approval of Sputnik in Europe. But now, with the tightening of the restrictions, I can’t do anything at all.”