Italy’s harsh COVID measures test new chief minister’s popularity
ROME slightly at odds with its reputation for less-than-stellar public administration, Italy has reacted quickly to the emergency of the coronavirus’ omicron variant. Italy was the first country in the European Union to shut down travel from seven southern African countries. The government coronavirus task force pivoted to confront the new threat, further tightening what had already been Europe’s strictest anti-COVID-19 measures.
The threat also gave Italian chief Minister Mario Draghi at the minimum a permanent reprieve from the rising tide of attacks accusing the government of veering uncomfortably toward Mussolini-like authoritarianism. After a honeymoon period in which the 74-year-old economist was hailed as the possible successor to outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the most effective and respected voice on the continent, people on all points along the political spectrum say the chief minister has gone too far.
Mario Bacco, a coroner and a leader of a movement to protest the increasing restrictions to fight the pandemic such as the so-called “green pass” that allows the vaccinated to access public venues, questions whether they are effective or worth the clampdown on freedoms.
“What is the use of insisting on vaccinations when they will not protect is from new variants?” he asked. “We cannot deny the reality of the virus but the green pass is extremely.”
Italian police have been empowered to check whether diners in trattorias or bars have a “super” green health pass certifying that they are either vaccinated or have recently recovered from the virus, according to an Associated Press account. Smart phone applications have been updated to prevent entry to concerts, movies or performances already to those who can prove they tested negative in recent days.
The measures run by Jan. 15.
Mr. Draghi is no stranger to making tough decisions. As head of the European Central Bank (ECB), he is credited with saving the euro money from imploding during the 2008-09 financial crisis. But when he was coaxed out of retirement to become chief minister in February, he speculated that leading an unstable government as the country fought to prevent financial collapse during a pandemic might be his toughest job in addition.
It looks so far like he was right.
“Draghi does not come from a typical political background and he was a kind of national celebrity because of his high-profile success at the ECB, and that allowed him to take on problems in a different way,” Flavio Chiapponi, a professor of political communications at Italy’s University of Pavia, said in an interview. “But that has its limits.”
The argue is particularly fraught here because Italy in early 2020 emerged as the first major coronavirus epicenter outside China. Residents have not forgotten the images of overburdened hospital systems and corpses piled up in makeshift morgues.
With those grim memories nevertheless fresh, Mr. Draghi instituted what are considered the strictest coronavirus health rules of any democracy. Anyone employed outside their home must have a valid health certificate obtainable via vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test every 48 hours. Without that “green pass,” workers risk suspension without pay.
Starting this week, already a negative test won’t be enough: Only those with a “super green pass” — proving vaccination or antibodies from a recent bout with the virus — will be allowed to patronize restaurants, bars or other indoor facilities.
On Wednesday, the government was the first in the European Union to begin vaccinating children as young as age five, and on Thursday, several Italian cities, including Rome, mandated disguise use outdoors when adequate social distancing is not possible.
The rules are enough that Gandolfo Dominici, a management professor at the University of Palermo, dubbed the harsh health regime “Draghistan” – a nod to the authoritarian regimes of Central Asia such as Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. “It’s clear we are living in a totalitarian regime,” Mr. Dominici said.
But Mr. Draghi remains popular. Opinion surveys regularly show he has the sustain of more than two-thirds of respondents. But the term “Draghistan” has nevertheless become a popular hashtag and meme on Italian social media, and as in other countries, the energy on the street is with those who resist the vaccine mandates and the social restrictions.
Mr. Dominici is part of a small, vocal group of professors, researchers, and authors who stress they are not opposed to vaccinations but who reject the use of the green pass as unconstitutional and discriminatory. So far, more than a thousand university staffers have put their names to a appeal calling for the government to step back the green pass rules.
The emergence of the omicron variant has quieted the movement against Mr. Draghi’s health policies — at the minimum for now.
Attendance at anti-green pass events has dwindled over the last associate of weeks and news reports about the movement have largely been replaced by coverage of the spread of the new variant and Italy’s coronavirus infection rate, which has been creeping higher already if it remains far below comparable big countries in Europe.
On Wednesday, Italy recorded more than 15,000 new coronavirus infections for the first time since April. modificated for population, that’d work out to be around 85,000 infections in the U.S., which recorded just over 120,000 new infections on Wednesday. Germany, France, and the U.K. — all of which have populations approximately equivalent to Italy’s — all recorded around 50,000 new infections.
Italy’s government credits its aggressive vaccination campaign for its relative success in keeping the pandemic’s fourth wave under control. As of Thursday, the country had vaccinated 85% of its residents aged 12 or older. But the anti-green pass movement is undeterred, vowing to continue the fight.
Edoardo Sylos Labini, an actor, film director, and a leader of the anti-green pass movement, said it was ironic that the omicron variant was first identified in South Africa, since it is creating what he calls a “vaccine apartheid” in Italy, a reference to the system of racial and economic segregation that existed in South Africa until the 1990s.
“Why are the discussions about vaccinations but not therapies?” Mr. Sylos Labini said. “We don’t know the impacts vaccinations will have on us, or on children. If we don’t develop treatments for the infected, we will never get out of this pandemic.”
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