By Crispian Balmer and Giuseppe Fonte
ROME – Italy is poised to become the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for all workers to have a COVID-19 “Green Pass”, with the cabinet due to approve the measure at a meeting later on Thursday, officials said.
The pass is a digital or paper certificate showing someone has received at least one vaccine dose, tested negative or recently recovered from the disease.
It was originally conceived to ease travel among European Union states, but Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad, unity government has rapidly extended its use in an effort to persuade more people to be inoculated and blunt the spread of the virus.
While some European countries have ordered their health workers to get vaccines, none have made the Green Pass mandatory for all employees, making Italy a test case for the continent.
There have been sporadic protests in recent weeks against the growing pressure to get a jab, but most political parties as well as the main employers’ federation have backed the move, hoping it will prevent further economic lockdowns.
Officials told Reuters that the decree was expected to come into force on Oct. 15 and would concern both public and private sector workers.
Any worker who fails to present a valid pass will be suspended on no pay, but cannot be sacked. People who ignore the decree and go to work without possessing the health certificate will face a fine of up to 1,000 euros ($1,175).
While the employers’ federation has welcomed the move, unions have been lukewarm and are demanding that tests should be given freely to those workers who refuse to be vaccinated.
Officials have pushed back on this, saying it would encourage people to keep on shunning vaccines. A government source said the cabinet was likely to keep a firm lid on prices for tests, imposing a maximum fee of 15 euros for adults.
Italy has the second-highest COVID-19 death toll in Europe after Britain, with more than 130,000 people dying of the disease since the pandemic surfaced in early 2020.
Around 74% of its 60-million-strong population have had at least one COVID-19 shot and 68% are fully vaccinated, figures broadly in line with most other European Union countries.
Around 3,000 health workers who have not been vaccinated against COVID-19 have been suspended in France, Health Minister Olivier Veran said on Thursday, a day after the country made vaccination mandatory for all healthcare and care home workers.