Fri | Jan 21, 2022

Unvaccinated Italians face new restrictions as holidays near

Published:Monday | December 6, 2021 | 9:30 AM
Policemen check the green health pass of public transportation passengers in Rome, Monday, December 6, 2021, on the first day a super green health pass went into effect. Italian police can check whether diners in restaurants or bars have a "super" green health pass certifying that they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus. (AP Photo/Andrew Medichini)

MILAN (AP) — Italy is making life more uncomfortable for unvaccinated people this holiday season, excluding them from indoor restaurants, theatres and museums starting Monday to reduce the spread of coronavirus and encourage vaccine sceptics to get their shots.

Italian police have been empowered to check whether diners in restaurants or bars have a “super” green health pass certifying that they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus.

Smart phone applications that verify people's health pass status have been updated to prevent entry to concerts, movies or performances to those who have merely tested negative in recent days.

The measures run through January 15.

Authorities also imposed a requirement that at least “basic” health pass, which can be obtained with a negative test, must be used to get on local transport and to check into hotels.

In the capital, Rome, dozens of police were out at transportation hubs checking both green passes and personal identification, finding a cooperative mood among commuters.

Still, a 50-year-old Roman became the first to receive a 400-euro ($450) fine after getting off the bus at the northern Flaminio station without the “basic” health pass, said Stefano Napoli, deputy chief of Rome's municipal police force.

“It was about time that they checked it,″ said Sara Ben, a Rome commuter, noting the absence of controls on the often-packed local transportation throughout the pandemic.

Milanese were enjoying the first long weekend of the season, including Tuesday's celebration for the patron saint of Saint Ambrose and Wednesday's national holiday, leaving commuter routes more empty than usual.

But few checks were evident around the main Central Station, either for regional trains or local buses and subways.

Commuter Veronica Bianchi said her health pass wasn't checked on a regional train arriving in Milan. “But they didn't check the ticket either,″ she said.

She favours the government's moves to encourage more people to get vaccinated and said she noted that people in their 20s like her are more apt to get the vaccine.

”Frankly, I think we are tired of being locked down. I work in a young company, and it was a race to get the vaccine,″ Bianchi said.

The number of new COVID-19 infections in Italy has been on a gradual rise for the past six weeks, even before concerns arose about the new omicron variant. That's a worrying trend as Italians look forward to holiday parties and getaways to spend time with friends and family, after being deprived of such festivities last year.

While both neighbouring Germany and Austria are moving toward making vaccines obligatory for certain groups, Italy is instead tightening free-time restrictions on the unvaccinated at the most convivial time of the year — while allowing those who are vaccinated to go about life more or less as usual.

European nations have found varying formulas to try to reduce infections during peak times.

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