COVID-19: Italy targets unvaccinated people with new restrictions

Italy targeted the unvaccinated on Monday with a slew of new coronavirus restrictions, with proof of vaccination or recovery from recent infection required to enter public transport, cafes, hotels, gyms and other activities daily.

The new “super” health card requirement, which eliminates the possibility of presenting a single negative test to access services, comes as many Italians return to work and school after the Christmas and New Year holidays. It came as COVID-19 infections surpass 100,000 per day in Italy.

The government has responded to the wave of infections fueled by omicron by passing new restrictions aimed at encouraging those vaccinated to get vaccinated or to be increasingly excluded from recreational and even essential activities, such as taking a bus or a metro to get to work.

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Cars line up at a drive-thru site for rapid swab testing in Rome on December 30, 2021.
(AP Photo / Andrew Medichini, file)

Italians have generally supported the restrictions, which in recent months have also included outdoor mask warrants and a standard sanitary pass to enter workplaces. Many welcomed the new restrictions, which were enforced on Monday by police deploying to train stations to check the immunization status of passengers and ensure they wore the more protective Ffp2 face masks, which were required on public transport in from Monday.

“I am happy that they are checking everywhere,” said Carola, Pasqualotto, a member of the Imperi sports center where the reception was checking the vaccination status of the members. “I am in favor of compulsory vaccines for all.”

A member of medical staff performs a nasal swab for a rapid COVID-19 test in Rome on December 30, 2021.

A member of medical staff performs a nasal swab for a rapid COVID-19 test in Rome on December 30, 2021.
(AP Photo / Andrew Medichini, file)

Prime Minister Mario Draghi, however, has come under fire for a related move to impose vaccination on anyone 50 and over from next month. Critics say the fine for non-compliance, which starts at 100 euros ($ 113), renders the warrant toothless. Draghi will chair a press conference later Monday to explain the new measures.

Italy, where the coronavirus epidemic first erupted in Europe in February 2020, has fully vaccinated 86% of the population over 12 years old, and nearly 75% of those eligible have received a booster.

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People wear an FFP2 mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a bus in Rome on January 8, 2022.

People wear an FFP2 mask to curb the spread of COVID-19 on a bus in Rome on January 8, 2022.
(AP Photo / Alessandra Tarantino, file)

But 2 million people out of an Italian population of 60 million are currently positive, which has an impact on essential services. School districts have complained that they don’t have enough teachers to reopen because many are positive or in quarantine. Some rail services have been cut due to labor shortages.

Doctors’ associations, meanwhile, said the outbreak is hitting Italian hospitals hard. Some 16,000 COVID-19 patients are hospitalized and 1,600 are in intensive care, but that’s well below the 4,000 people in intensive care units at the height of the first wave. Authorities say about two-thirds of people currently hospitalized are not vaccinated.

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