Italy’s Vaccine Passport Power Grab

Is Draghi embellishing a crisis to sidestep democracy?

By Thomas Fazi and cross-posted from Unherd.com

On October 15, Italy will become the first country in Europe where you will need a “Covid passport”, or “green pass”, to access not only most public spaces (as is already the case for all citizens over the age of 12) but all workplaces as well, public or private. The pass proves that you’ve been vaccinated against Covid-19, have recently tested negative or have recovered from the disease within the past six months. Anyone without one risks being put on unpaid leave and fined as much as 1,500 euros.

Some other European countries — most notably France — have similar measures in place, requiring proof of Covid status to gain access to indoor restaurants, museums, theatres and cultural events, or to work in certain sectors such as healthcare. But nothing comes close to Italy’s scheme in terms of range and scope; the only other country in the world to have introduced a mandatory Covid passport for all workers is Saudi Arabia.

How did Italy reach this point? Essentially, the Italian government adopted a textbook frog-in-boiling-water approach. The green pass was announced in mid-July, pretty much out of the blue, despite very few hospitalisations for Covid and a vaccination rate well above the European average. When they first came into force on August 6, they were initially limited to indoor restaurants, museums, cinemas and sports venues. Given that it was the middle of the holiday season, and that most restaurants in the summer offer outdoor seating (no green pass required), the impact of the measure was initially rather limited.

But that soon changed. On September 1, the green pass became mandatory also for medium and long-distance public transport, as well as for all school teachers, staff and university students. And just a week ago came the decision to extend it to all public and private-sector workers — a move that caught almost everyone by surprise.

As the rules became increasingly restrictive, opposition to the green pass started growing as well: thousands of people, who were largely vaccine-hesitant, started taking to the streets in several Italian cities. Some demonstrators even went so far as to compare themselves to holocaust victims by wearing Star of David badges, like those worn by Jews in Nazi-era Germany, bearing the words “not vaccinated”.

Such comparisons are ridiculous, but the source of the protesters’ discontent is not. Covid passports — especially when so sweeping in scope — raise serious ethical and political issues. With these changes, we are effectively stripping citizens who haven’t broken any law whatsoever (in Italy, like elsewhere, Covid vaccines are not mandatory) of their basic constitutional rights — the right to work, to study, to move freely. That should give anyone reason to pause and reflect…

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