Italians will soon need to show proof either of vaccination or recovery from COVID-19 to enter most public venues, with negative coronavirus tests no longer counting as a valid basis to hold a digital “green” pass, the government announced Wednesday.
Rome’s decision to increase public health restrictions comes before the year-end holiday season, as neighboring Austria is forced into lockdown to contain the latest pandemic wave.
“We see a very difficult situation outside of Italy,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi told a press conference. The new measures are aimed at both avoiding risk as well as to “preserve what we’ve won over the past year,” Draghi said.
Italy is one of the most vaccinated countries in the EU, with about 73 percent of its population fully jabbed. But it too has seen new cases increase, with the country averaging over 9,500 new cases daily over a seven-day period.
Hospital occupancy has also increased over the past month, though more slowly, with 68 hospitalizations for COVID-19 per million, according to the most recent data, versus 45 per million when they were at their lowest recent levels in mid-October.
Health Minister Roberto Speranza said that under the new rules, which will enter into force on December 6 and last until January 15, many public venues will only be accessible under so-called 2G rules â€” meaning visitors must have proof of either vaccination or recovery. A negative PCR or antigen test will be needed to go to work or use public transport.
Italy already requires certain workers to be vaccinated, including home care workers, doctors and nurses. The requirement will be extended to the police force, army and school staff, as well as non-medical hospital workers. All categories will require boosters shots, the minister said.
The new rules also shorten the validity of the vaccine certificate to 9 months from 12, meaning that those falling outside the validity period will need to get a booster shot to extend it. Speranza said that the start date when someone could ask for a booster would be shortened from 6 months to 5 months.
In response to a reporter’s question, Draghi said he had received his third shot.
Speranza said the aim of the new rules was to prevent closures further down the line. He added that, under the new measures, holders of a valid vaccine certificate would be exempt from regional restrictions should rising hospitalizations trigger them.
The country â€” one of the first in Europe to roll out vaccine certificate requirements â€” has faced street protests against public health measures in the past. Demonstrators clashed with police in the Netherlands and Belgium last weekend over tightened restrictions.