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MARIO DRAGHI

‘Draghi effect’: Protests in Italy – but also surge in vaccine bookings after PM’s health pass announcement

Protests were held around Italy on Saturday after the government unveiled plans to require the health passport for entry to venues including restaurants, gyms and cinemas.

‘Draghi effect’: Protests in Italy - but also surge in vaccine bookings after PM's health pass announcement
A protester in Rome holds a placard reading 'Shit Green Pass'. Photo: Filippo Monteforte

After Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi on Thursday announced an expansion of the country’s health passport scheme and urged people to get vaccinated or face a new lockdown, protests were organised in dozens of towns and cities across the country.

“Better to die free than live like slaves!” read one placard held up outside Milan’s cathedral, while another in Rome’s historic centre read “Vaccines set you free” over a picture of the gates to Auschwitz.

The vast majority of protesters were not wearing masks, AFP reports.

A demonstration inside Milan’s Vittorio Emanuele II shopping mall on July 24th, 2021. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Meanwhile, online vaccination booking portals were reportedly struggling to cope with demand for appointments on Friday and Saturday due to what Italian media is calling the “Draghi effect”.

at least half a million vaccination appointments were made in the 24 hours following Draghi’s televised address, according to Italy’s coronavirus emergency commissioner.

EXPLAINED: When, where and why will you need a Covid health passport in Italy?

“Today we registered an increase in bookings ranging from +15% to +200% depending on the region. In Friuli Venezia Giulia we registered +6,000%”. Emergency Commissioner Francesco Figliuolo told Italian news show Tg5 on Friday evening.

More than 100,000 appointments were booked in the regions of Lazio and Lombardy alone, Figliuolo said.

Draghi on Thursday night urged people to “get vaccinated, get vaccinated, get vaccinated”, as he and Health Minister Roberto Speranza outlined plans for expanding the use of the ‘green pass’ within Italy.

Far-right group Forza Nuova leads a demonstration against the green pass in Rome on July 24th, 2021. Photo: Filippo MONTEFORTE/AFP

From August 6th, people in Italy will need the pass to enter gyms, swimming pools, museums, cinemas, theatres, sports stadiums and other public venues, including indoor seating areas at bars and restaurants.

It will serve as proof that bearers have either been vaccinated, undergone a recent negative Covid-19 test, or recovered from Covid-19.

Business owners are expected to enforce the rules or face fines of up to 1,000 euros under the decree adopted by the cabinet this week.

The government hopes the expansion of the ‘green pass’ scheme will persuade more people to book their vaccinations as health ministry data showed a recent slowdown in the number of first jabs administered.

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Draghi said the scheme was also being expanded as an alternative to new restrictions and business closures as the number of new cases recorded in the country has spiked.

”The use of vaccine certificates is needed to keep the economy open,” Draghi said,

He said the alternative to the green pass and more vaccination would be the return of health restrictions, stating: “No vaccines mean a new lockdown”.

Draghi also had strong words for anyone encouraging others to avoid getting vaccinated, saying: “An invitation not to get vaccinated is an invitation to die, or to let others die.”

READ ALSO:  How big is Italy’s anti-vax movement really?

Protesters walk past a restaurant in Milan. Photo: Miguel Medina/AFP

Piedmont regional governor Alberto Cirio said the government’s anouncement “had the effect of doubling the requests for vaccinations.”

“Every hour on our portal we’re registering double the number compared to the average of the previous days,” he told news agency Ansa.

Vice-President of the Lombardy Region Letizia Moratti wrote on Twitter on Friday that “participation in the vaccination campaign is growing, yesterday about 49,000 citizens signed up. To meet these new requests, an additional 100,000 new appointments will be made available for first doses from today until the end of August ”

Matteo Salvini, leader of the right-wing populist League party, got vaccinated on Friday according to Italian media reports.

Similar measures announced in France by President Emmanuel Macron last week sparked protests, but also dramatically increased the number of vaccination bookings.

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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy approves fourth Covid vaccine doses for over-60s

Italy has extended the availability of a second Covid-19 vaccine booster shot as infection rates surge across the country.

Italy approves fourth Covid vaccine doses for over-60s

The Italian health ministry announced that fourth Covid vaccine doses, or second booster shots, will soon be available to all residents aged 60 and over, as national medicines regulator Aifa gave the green light on Monday.

Health minister Roberto Speranza said on Monday that doses could be administered to this age group “immediately”, as Italy “moves in line” with recommendations from the European Medicines Agency (EMA) and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC).

“In the coming hours, immediately, already today, we will adapt our guidelines, our circulars and our indications. We will immediately open up administration in our regions.

“We mustn’t think that the battle against Covid is won. It is still ongoing and we must keep the level of caution high,” he said.

The health ministry confirmed in an update on its website that second booster doses were now recommended to “all persons aged 60 years or older, provided there has been an interval of at least 120 days since the first booster dose or the last post-booster infection (date of positive diagnostic test)”.

READ ALSO: Fourth jabs and isolation: Italy’s plan to control Covid cases this summer

The availability of fourth doses will vary by region, as each local health authority is responsible for managing the timing of its own vaccination campaign.

Several regions, including Lazio (around Rome) and Lombardy (around Milan), said on Monday that they would allow over-60s to book their fourth jabs within the coming days.

A fourth dose can be booked as usual, via pharmacies or family doctors, and via regional booking websites where available. (Find more information in a separate article here.)

Speranza didn’t say when second booster shots may be rolled out to all age groups, stating only that “a new vaccination campaign” is set to begin in September.

Health authorities have previously said they are not planning to make a fourth dose mandatory, though an annual “top-up” shot is likely to be offered.

Until now, only over-80s, care home residents, and clinically vulnerable patients have been eligible for a fourth shot in Italy.

READ ALSO: At a glance: What are the Covid-19 rules in Italy now?

But health experts are also urging the government to speed up the administration of fourth jabs to these vulnerable groups: uptake remains far lower than hoped so far, with 78 percent of over-80s not getting theirs yet.

With the coronavirus infection rate now at its highest level since February, and the number of hospitalisations expected to keep rising in the coming weeks, the health ministry has not said whether it plans to bring back any recently-scrapped health measures.

For now, the government’s strategy appears to be focused on maintaining the relatively high rate of vaccination coverage in Italy: 90 percent of the population over 12 years old has been fully vaccinated with at least two doses, official figures show.

Find out more about booking a booster shot in Italy in a separate article here. See the government’s ‘prenotazione vaccino‘ (vaccine booking) website for links to regional authorities’ appointment reservation platforms.

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