Italy’s tough COVID measures test popularity of new prime minister


ROME | Somewhat at odds with its less-than-stellar reputation for public administration, Italy has responded quickly to the emergency of the omicron variant of the coronavirus. Italy was the first country in the European Union to ban travel from seven countries in southern Africa. The government’s coronavirus task force pivoted to deal with the new threat, further bolstering what were already Europe’s toughest anti-COVID-19 measures.

The threat has also given Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi at least a temporary respite from the rising tide of attacks accusing the government of uncomfortably veering into Mussolini-style authoritarianism. After a honeymoon period in which the 74-year-old economist was hailed as the potential successor to outgoing German Chancellor Angela Merkel as the continent’s most effective and respected voice, people from all walks of life across the political spectrum say the prime minister has gone too far.

Mario Bacco, coroner and leader of a protest movement against growing restrictions to fight the pandemic such as the so-called “green pass” which allows vaccinated people to access public places, wonders if they are effective or are worth the repression of freedoms.

“What’s the use of insisting on vaccinations when they don’t protect against new variants?” He asked. “You cannot deny the reality of the virus, but the green pass is intolerable.”

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 account of the Associated Press. Smartphone apps have been updated to prevent access to concerts, movies or shows, even to those who can prove they have tested negative in recent days.

The measures extend until January 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 from imploding during the 2008-09 financial crisis. But when pressured to come out of retirement to become prime minister in February, he speculated that running an unstable government as the country struggled to prevent financial collapse during a pandemic might be his job. more difficult to date.

It seems so far that he was right.

“Draghi does not come from a typical political background and he was kind of a national celebrity due to his resounding success at the ECB, and that allowed him to approach issues in a different way,” said Flavio Chiapponi , professor of political science. communications at the Italian University of Pavia, said in an interview. “But that has its limits.”

The debate is particularly loaded here because Italy became at the beginning of 2020 the first major epicenter of the coronavirus outside of China. Residents have not forgotten the images of overcrowded hospital systems and corpses piled up in makeshift morgues.

With these dark memories still fresh, Mr Draghi instituted what is considered to be the strictest coronavirus health rules in any democracy. Anyone employed outside their home must have a valid health certificate obtainable by vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test every 48 hours. Without this “green pass”, workers risk suspension without pay.

From this week, even a negative test won’t be enough: only those who have a “green super pass” – proving vaccination or antibodies from a recent fight against the virus – will be allowed to frequent restaurants, bars or other indoor facilities.

On Wednesday, the government was the first in the European Union to start immunizing children from the age of five, and on Thursday, several Italian cities, including Rome, made it compulsory to wear masks outside when adequate social distancing is not possible.


The rules are enough that Gandolfo Dominici, professor of management at the University of Palermo, dubbed the harsh health regime “Draghistan” – a nod to authoritarian regimes in Central Asia like Turkmenistan and Afghanistan. “It is clear that we live in a totalitarian regime,” Dominici said.

But Mr. Draghi remains popular. Opinion polls regularly show that he has the support of more than two-thirds of those polled. But the term “Draghistan” has always become a popular hashtag and meme on Italian social networks, and like in other countries, the energy on the streets is with those who resist vaccine mandates and social restrictions.

Mr Dominici is part of a small, noisy group of professors, researchers and authors who stress that 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 staff have filed their names on a petition calling on the government to rescind the green pass rules.

The emergence of the omicron variant has calmed the movement against Mr. Draghi’s health policies – at least for now.

Attendance at green anti-pass events has declined over the past two weeks and reporting on the movement has largely been replaced by coverage of the spread of the new variant and the rate of coronavirus infection in Italy, which has soared even though it remains far below large comparable countries in Europe.

Italy on Wednesday recorded more than 15,000 new coronavirus infections for the first time since April. Adjusted for population, that would represent about 85,000 infections in the United States, which recorded just over 120,000 new infections as of Wednesday. Germany, France and the UK – all of which have populations roughly the size of Italy – have all recorded around 50,000 new infections.

The Italian government credits its aggressive vaccination campaign for its relative success in containing the fourth wave of the pandemic. As of Thursday, the country had vaccinated 85% of its residents aged 12 or older. But the green anti-pass movement is not discouraged, promising to continue the fight.

Edoardo Sylos Labini, actor, director and leader of the green anti-pass movement, said it was ironic that the omicron variant was first identified in South Africa because it creates what he calls “apartheid vaccine “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 about therapies? Said Mr. Sylos Labini. “We don’t know the impact vaccinations will have on us or on children. If we don’t develop treatments for those infected, we will never get out of this pandemic. “


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