Italy targets unvaccinated with restrictions as cases rise

·3 min read

ROME (AP) — The Italian government on Wednesday decided to exclude unvaccinated people from certain activities in a bid to contain rising coronavirus infections and stave off financially crippling lockdowns just as the economy is starting to grow again.

A new government decree also made vaccinations mandatory for law enforcement, military and all school employees. Previously, vaccines were only required for health care workers and teachers.

Premier Mario Draghi said the measures were necessary to prevent the “slow but steady” increase in infections from growing while preserving the gains Italy has made in rebooting the European Union's third-largest economy, which shrank 8.9% last year.

“We’ve begun to return to normality. We want to conserve this normality,” Draghi told a press conference after the Cabinet unanimously approved the measures.

Italy, where Europe’s outbreak began in February 2020, is seeing a rise in infections but to a more measured degree than other EU countries, recording around 10,000 new cases and fewer than 100 deaths a day.

It has fully vaccinated more than 84% of its over-12 population, but first-dose appointments have leveled off and 20 small towns in northern Italy where vaccination rates are among the lowest in the country went into semi-lockdown on Wednesday because infections there were rising fast.

Health Minister Roberto Speranza acknowledged Italy was doing better than many of its neighbors, but said the country had learned that the key to fighting the pandemic was with preventive and proactive measures.

“Staying in front of the virus is fundamental if you want to keep the situation under control,” he said.

Unlike other countries, Italy never relaxed many of its restrictions even as cases tanked with vaccination: Indoor mask mandates remain in place and Italy last month became the first country in the West to require a health pass to access the workplace.

The so-called “Green Pass” contained proof of vaccination, of being cured of COVID-19 or a negative test. With the new decree, the government is introducing a “reinforced” Green Pass that excludes the ability to test into certain indoor activities, reserving them only for vaccinated people or those who have had the disease.

Non-vaccinated people, for example, won’t be able to go to the movies or theater or eat indoors from Dec. 6-Jan. 15, or beyond that date in regions where infection and hospital rates are rising. The aim is to keep restaurants and other indoor activities open, but just to people who are vaccinated or have immunity from having had COVID-19.

The decree also added activities for which even a basic Green Pass is needed, including to check into a hotel or use regional or local public transport. Previously, a Green Pass was necessary only for long-distance public transport.

The decree calls on local authorities to devise beefed-up controls, and report weekly to the Interior Ministry on how they're going to enforce the new measures.

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Follow AP’s pandemic coverage at https://apnews.com/hub/coronavirus-pandemic

Nicole Winfield, The Associated Press

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