ROME (Reuters) – The Italian government ruled on Thursday that teachers must have proof of immunity from COVID-19 before entering the classroom, and also made the so-called Green Pass mandatory for travellers on trains, planes, ships and inter-city coaches.
The Green Pass is a digital or paper certificate that shows if someone has received at least one jab, has tested negative or has recently recovered from the coronavirus.
Looking to speed up vaccinations to counter the highly contagious Delta variant, the government had already decreed that from Aug. 6 the pass would be required to eat indoors in restaurants and use an array of services and leisure activities.
On Thursday, despite misgivings in the ruling coalition and small street protests, Mario Draghi’s cabinet widened the Green Pass requirement to all teachers, university students and long-distance transport from Sept. 1.
“The choice of the government is to invest as much as possible in the Green Pass to avoid closures and to safeguard freedom,” Health Minister Roberto Speranza told reporters.
Teachers will not be able to work without the certificate and after five days of absence they will no longer be paid.
Italy is following in the footsteps of France, which was the first European country to say it was making proof of immunity mandatory to access a range of services and venues.
The move by President Emmanuel Macron triggered larger protests than those that have been seen in Italy. Opponents of the measures say they trample on freedoms, discriminate against the unvaccinated, and flout European Union rules.
On Thursday France’s top court ruled that the health pass did not contravene the constitution.
Italy reported 27 coronavirus-related deaths on Thursday against 21 the day before, the health ministry said, while the daily tally of new infections rose to 7,230 from 6,596.
The country has registered 128,163 COVID deaths since its outbreak emerged in February last year, the second-highest toll in Europe after Britain and the eighth-highest in the world. It has seen 4.38 million cases to date.
In March, just a month after taking office, Draghi made it obligatory for health workers to be vaccinated.
A growing number of countries are seeking ways to convince reluctant sections of their populations to get COVID-19 jabs.
U.S. President Joe Biden said last week it will be compulsory for federal workers to get vaccinated or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.
While France saw a surge in vaccinations following Macron’s announcement of the health pass requirement, the picture in Italy has been less clear.
The pace of inoculations actually slowed in the two weeks following Draghi’s July 22 announcement of the first Green Pass restrictions, but this may be due to the time lag between booking a jab and actually getting one, and to summer holidays.
“The vaccination hesitation among the over 50s persists,” Nino Cartabellotta, head of Italian public health think-tank GIMBE, told Reuters.
As of Aug. 4 some 65% of Italians had received at least one shot against COVID-19, of whom 54% were fully vaccinated. The figures are broadly in line with those of most European countries.
(Additional reporting by Giselda Vagnoni; Editing by Angus MacSwan)