Protests have erupted in Italy as one of the most stringent anti-coronavirus measures in Europe went into effect, requiring all workers to show a health pass to get into their place of employment.
Police were out in force, schools closed early and embassies issued warnings of possible violence amid concerns that anti-vaccination demonstrations could turn violent, as they did in Rome over the weekend.
The so-called Green Pass shows proof of vaccination, a recent negative test or of having recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months.
Italy has required it to access all sorts of indoor activities for weeks, including dining, visiting museums and theatres, and on long-distance trains.
But the addition of the workplace requirement has sparked heated debate and opposition in the former epicentre of the outbreak, where vaccination rates are among the highest in Europe and where even the latest Delta variant-fuelled resurgence has been kept largely under control.
“Today they are stepping on our constitution,” said an anti-vaccine protester, Loris Mazzarato. “I say NO to this discrimination.”
He was among the hundreds of demonstrators in Trieste, where protests by port workers refusing to show a Green Pass to get to work threatened to affect commercial activities, though early reports suggested the ports were operational.
Protesters shouted “Liberta” (Freedom) in a largely peaceful demonstration in Florence.
Implementation of the new requirement varies. Electronic scanners that can read mobile phone QR codes with the Green Pass were set up at bigger places of employment, such as the office of Italian Premier Mario Draghi and the headquarters of state railway company Trenitalia.
But at smaller places of work, from restaurants to tennis clubs, employers and managers had to download an app that can scan the codes.
While it was unclear how strictly Italy would enforce the requirement, the fear of spot checks drove employers to comply, at least initially.
Sanctions for employers who fail to check employees range from 400 to 1,000 euros. A worker who fails to show a Green Pass at work is considered to be absent without justification. If the worker shows up anyway without a valid Green Pass, he or she could face fines from 600 euros to 1,500 euros.
But there were some anomalies. Supermarket cashiers and hairdressers have to have a Green Pass to work, but their clients do not and need only to wear a mask indoors.
The aim of the requirement is to encourage even higher vaccination rates in a country that has kept Covid-19 largely under control, reporting around 67 cases per 100,000 inhabitants and a daily death toll that has not exceeded 70 for months.
In Italy, 80% of the population over age 12 has already been fully vaccinated. But for those people who cannot or will not get their shots, the expanded pass requirement imposes a burden of getting tested every 48 hours just to be able to go to work, though people with a proven medical condition that prevents them being vaccinated are exempt.
Not even the Vatican was spared from the Green Pass rules. Three Swiss Guards quit and another three were suspended after they refused to get vaccinated before the Vatican’s Green Pass requirement went into effect.