A man shows his COVID-19 certificate at Naples Central Station, Italy, September 1, 2021. REUTERS/Ciro De Luca
Italy is set to make its COVID-19 "Green Pass" mandatory for all workersfrom next month, a minister said on Wednesday, becoming the first European country to do so as it tries to accelerate vaccinations and stamp out infections.
The pass, a digital or paper certificate showing someone has received at least one vaccine dose, tested negative or recently recovered from the virus, was originally conceived to ease travel among EU states.
But Italy was among a group of countries that also made it a requirement for people to access venues such as museums, gyms and indoor dining in restaurants.
It subsequently extended use of the pass for teachers and school staff, despite frictions over the issue in Prime Minister Mario Draghi's national unity coalition.
Regional Affairs Minister Mariastella Gelmini said the cabinet was ready to go still further when it met on Thursday.
"We are heading towards a mandatory Green Pass not only for public sector workers but also private sector ones," she told RAI radio. "The vaccine is the only weapon we have against COVID and we can only contain infection by vaccinating a great majority of the population."
Failure to have a Green Pass could result in workers being suspended and losing their pay. It wasn't immediately clear if it could be used as grounds for dismissal.
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 first surfaced in early 2020.
Around 73% of its 60-million-strong population have had at least one COVID shot and 65% are fully vaccinated, figures broadly in line with most other European Union countries.
Thursday's cabinet meeting may be a tense one. Right-wing leader Matteo Salvini, leader of the co-ruling League, has repeatedly resisted extending the use of the Green Pass, but his party is internally split on the issue.
Draghi met union leaders on Wednesday to spell out the plans. Maurizio Landini, the head of the country's largest union, CGIL, told reporters afterwards it was important that tests should be free for workers who did not want a jab.
"People should not pay to work," he said.
Opponents of the Green Pass say it tramples on freedoms and is a back-door way of forcing people to vaccinate.
Talk of making it mandatory for public sector workers alone has already triggered muted protests, which would probably be stronger if it were extended to private firms.
Several other European countries use the health pass for leisure activities and travel, but none has made it mandatory for all public or private sector workers.
REUTERS / Reporting by Giuseppe Fonte and Emilio Parodi, writing by Gavin Jones and Crispian Balmer, editing by Nick Macfie
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