With new rules from early August, and more to kick in in September, Euronews looks at the vaccinated Italians that, for one reason or another, have slipped through the administrative net.
As of 6 August, the “Green Pass” immunity passport - officially “the COVID-19 Green Certificate” part of the EU Digital COVID Certificate scheme - is mandatory in a variety of public spaces across Italy.
For the vast majority of Italians who have been vaccinated against COVID-19, obtaining the Green Pass has been as simple as receiving an email or text message with a code to download their certificate, or, alternatively, uploading their data on the government’s official website.
However, for some individuals whose status has not been recognised by the system, obtaining their certificate has been seriously problematic, dragging them into weeks of hurdles and uncertainty.
As the Green Pass scheme will be further extended in the coming months, the anxiety felt by those caught in the system continues to grow - as many don’t know if and when their coveted certificate will finally arrive.
Some commentators have described Italy's famed bureaucracy as Kafkaesque, but it would be more appropriate in some cases to eschew the Teutonic and make apposite comparisons to the Florentine poet Dante's circles of hell.
A large number of Italians in 2021 are trapped, it seems, in a bureaucratic nightmare where the COVID Green Pass is concerned.
What is the Green Pass?
The “Green Pass” scheme was announced by Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi in July, with the government hoping that the scheme will continue to boost vaccine uptake, especially as the highly contagious Delta variant of COVID-19 continues to spread.
The Certificate - which can be both digital and physical - is provided to Italians aged 12 and over (existing anti-COVID-19 vaccines have not yet been approved by the European Medical Agency for those who are younger, and they are thus exempt from the scheme) who have received an EMA-approved vaccine, after at least fifteen days after the first dose.
Those who refuse to be vaccinated against COVID-19, on the other hand, will be required to take a PCR or antigen test in order to obtain the Green Pass, which will remain valid for 48 hours. An exception is for those who have proof of having recovered from COVID-19 within the past six months, who are eligible for the certificate.
Since the 6 August, having a Green Pass has been mandatory in a variety of public settings, such as for indoor dining in bars and restaurants, as well as to access museums, gyms, swimming pools, cinemas, theatres, and stadiums. Refusal to comply, both by clients and business owners, can result in a fine of up to €1,000.
Moreover, from the 1st of September, it will also be required for those wishing to travel by plane, inter-city rail, inter-regional buses, and most inter-regional ferries, as well as for school staff (students are excluded) and all university members. It is further required for Italians to travel to and from other EU countries, as part of the EUDCC.
The Green Pass scheme has come under fire from certain politicians - especially on the right - who have accused it of being “discriminatory” and have staged protests against its implementation. Nevertheless, it is supported by the majority of Italians. [https://www.liberoquotidiano.it/news/italia/28221800/green-pass-sondaggio-liberta-61-per-cento-si-schiera-favore-certificato.html\]
“I felt powerless”: the vaccinated Italians unable to get the Green Pass
The Green Pass scheme has been deemed an “extraordinary” success by Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who noted how 20 million downloaded their certificate in three days alone.
However, accounts have emerged of several individuals who have found it almost impossible to obtain their pass, despite being entitled to it.
These include Italians who officially reside abroad and are thus registered with the AIRE (Anagrafe degli italiani residenti all’estero, or the Registry of Italians Residing Abroad), individuals who have received each dose of their vaccine in different regions, and those encountering specific technical difficulties, especially the elderly.
Gioele Passoni, a PhD researcher at Oxford University, was one such person who found himself having slipped through the cracks of the system.
Born in Italy, he has recently returned to the country and received a double dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine in his native region of Lombardy this July, thus making him automatically eligible for the Green Pass. However, after his certificate didn’t arrive, he gradually realised the process was not going to be simple.
“My tessera sanitaria [Italian health insurance card] hasn’t expired, but I’ve been told it was deactivated from the moment I moved abroad,” he explained. “All the listed assistance and contact points were utterly useless.”
Conversely, Passoni's fiancée - who is British and was vaccinated in the UK - was immediately able to obtain her Green Pass in Italy, unlike him.
After over a month of emails and phone calls to obtain his Green Pass, he finally received his digital certificate on the 26 August, after having contacted the public relations office of the Italian Ministry of Health. While happy to have his vaccination status now recognised by the state, he was left feeling “exhausted” by the ordeal.
“I won’t even begin to describe the past month,” he told Euronews. “I wasted working days to resolve the problem, and felt powerless any time I called a helpline and ended up receiving no response or assistance of any kind.”
Others are still fighting.
“I’ve been trying and calling for a month now,” lamented Marta Fallani, a Rome-born French resident. “And nothing.”
Fallani was vaccinated in Rome and is planning to head back to France shortly, where she will be asked for the EU Digital Covid Certificate in order to enter.
“It’s a problem which is affecting Italians, born in Italy, who have a codice fiscale (tax code/Social Security Number) but don’t have their health insurance card,” she said. It is important to note that the Italian State does not require citizens to have an active health insurance card or even a tax code in order to get vaccinated and obtain the Green Pass.
“I’ve phoned all the helplines and no one’s been able to help. I have to go to France in a few days and I have no idea how things will go.”
How many have been affected?
The current scale of the problem remains unknown, with no official statistics or survey having been released.
Nevertheless, one recent report has suggested that potentially thousands of people have had issues obtaining their Green Pass, in particular those with “mixed” vaccinations - having received AstraZeneca for their first shot, and an RNA vaccine for their second - or who had their second dose in a different region from where they had their first. Such problems have been attributed to a breakdown in communication between regional authorities
“We have had calls from various individuals who have struggled to obtain their Green Pass merely because they’ve had their second shot outside of the region,” was the response of one employee working at the Health Protection Agency of Pavia in Lombardy, where this issue has been frequently reported. This can be explained due to many Lombard residents getting their second vaccine dose while on holiday in coastal regions such as Puglia.
One Facebook group with over 600 members is filled with stories of individuals who have encountered difficulties obtaining their Green Pass - ranging from people who’ve been unable to get it after their single dose, to those who have recovered from COVID and whose status has been “lost” in the system.
Among the many issues is the fact that the helpline - 800 91 24 91 - is itself rarely reachable, and there are many reports of how it frequently cuts out.
The Ministry of Health are yet to provide an official response to the issue, stating that they were “overburdened” with emails. A member of the press office, however, privately expressed that “millions of Italians have received their Green Pass certificates”, and that individuals encountering difficulties remain “part of a very small minority”.
While those trapped in such a bureaucratic limbo may be few compared to those who have managed to obtain their certificate without any complications, the impact that it can have on their daily lives is immense.
Lacking a Green Pass - especially from the beginning of next month - will severely debilitating, and may result in an individual having to pay out-of-pocket for various tests merely to access certain basic services.
“The inefficiency of the system is insane,” Passoni told Euronews, after celebrating the belated arrival of his Pass. “I ask myself how many other absurd problems there are in the public administration’s database - and it makes me tear my hair out.”