Italy hit the unvaccinated with a list of new coronavirus restrictions Monday, with proof of vaccination or recovery from a recent infection required to enter public transport, cafes, hotels, gyms, and other various venues.
The new “super” health pass requirement, means it is no longer enough to just show a negative test to gain access to services. The requirement comes as many Italians returned to work and school following the Christmas and New Year's holidays and new COVID-19 infections are surpassing 100,000 per day.
The government has responded to the wave of COVID infections by putting new restrictions in place to encourage vaccine holdouts to get their shot or be further limited in recreational and even essential activities, such as riding a bus or subway to work.
For the most part, Italians have supported the restrictions, which have recently included outdoor mask mandates and a standard health pass to get into workplaces. The new restriction was enforced Monday by police at train stations checking passengers' vaccine status and ensuring they were wearing the more protective Ffp2 face masks, which are now required on public transport.
“I’m happy that they are controlling everywhere,” said Carola, Pasqualotto, a member of the Imperi sport center where the front desk checks vaccination status. “I am in favor of mandatory vaccines for all.”
Premier Mario Draghi, however, has been criticized for his government's decision last week to mandate vaccinations for anyone 50 and older.
Critics say the fine for noncompliance, which starts at 100 euros ($113), is much too low to make defying the requirement matter. But the fines rise substantially, to as high as 1,600 euros (nearly $1,800), for the unvaccinated in that age group who enter their workplaces starting in mid-February.
Meeting with reporters on Monday, Draghi defended the vaccine obligation.
"The data tells us that those older than 50 run greater risks and that intensive care units are occupied by two-thirds of those not vaccinated,'' the premier said.
Doctors have also been warning that the recent deluge of COVID-19 patients creates the risk that hospitals will not be able to do regular surgeries or offer proper care to non-COVID-19 patients.
Italy has fully vaccinated 86% of its 12-and-over population, and nearly 75% of those who are eligible have received a booster.
Still, 2 million people out of Italy’s population of 60 million are currently COVID positive, affecting essential services. School districts are struggling because they don't have enough teachers to reopen, as so many are positive or in quarantine.
Two southern regions, Sicily and Campania which includes Naples, defied the government by keeping their schools closed on Monday. But a parent challenged the closure in court and the schools in Campania were ordered to reopen on Tuesday.
Draghi said he wanted to depart from the previous government's decision to close schools during the first year of the pandemic, calling schools “fundamental to democracy.”
“We want to be cautious, very cautious, but also to minimize the economic and social effects, but above all on kids, who suffered the most" by the long school closures, Draghi said.
Young people “in the evening go to pizzerias, they do sports all afternoon,'' the premier added. ”It makes no sense to close schools and to not close the rest" of society.
Italian teachers are required to be vaccinated with nearly 99% compliance according to Education Minister Patrizio Bianchi.