ROME — Italy is to require the country’s entire workforce to show a health passport or face suspension from work.
The measure, due to come into force on October 15, is a first for Europe and some of the strictest in the world.
Italy’s 23 million public and private sector workers will have to show a so-called Green Pass — providing proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection — to avoid sanctions that also include fines of up to €1,500 (US$1,700).
Italy has been the hardest-hit country in the European Union in terms of coronavirus deaths and wants to reach vaccination saturation before the cooler autumn weather arrives, in order to reduce the risk of other variants emerging.
Announcing the decision, Health Minister Roberto Speranza said the new measures would improve safety and “make our vaccination campaign even stronger”.
“The implementation of a pass such as the one we are bringing into force with this decree will, we are certain, help us push forward this vaccination campaign,” he said.
Workers who refuse to present a valid health certificate will be suspended without pay, but cannot be fired, ministers told reporters.
Despite a vocal anti-vaccination minority, Italians have broadly backed the government’s vaccination campaign.
Nearly 65% of Italians have now been fully vaccinated, but infections have been rising, driven by the Delta variant.
At the current pace, Italy will have 81-82% of the population vaccinated by mid-October, but that is not enough for herd immunity to make everyone safe, Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta said. “It is autumn soon, temperatures are low, circulation of the virus increases and increases the likelihood of variants that could be resistant to the vaccine. So we don’t have much time.”
Italy has already made vaccines mandatory for healthcare workers and requires a green pass for teachers and those wanting to use gyms and restaurants.
Italy has recorded more than 4.6 million cases of Covid-19 and over 130,000 coronavirus-related deaths since the start of the pandemic, according to Johns Hopkins University data.
The green pass was initially introduced to make travel within the EU more efficient, and several countries have since introduced requirements for people to show the certificate for different reasons.
France requires a health pass for access to restaurants, bars, planes and trains, while Austria and Cyprus are among other EU countries to have used similar schemes.