Unvaccinated Italians face tougher restrictions as Europe brings in new Covid rules
Italy has brought in tougher restrictions for unvaccinated people, as Europe tightens its Covid rules ahead of the Christmas holidays.
Under the new rules those who haven't received their Covid jab are excluded from indoor restaurants, theatres and museums.
The measures aim to reduce the spread of the virus and encourage vaccine sceptics to get their jab.
Starting from Monday and running through to January 15, Italian police can check whether diners in restaurants or bars have a “super” green health pass certifying that they are either vaccinated - or have recently recovered from the virus.
Smartphone applications that check people’s health pass status will be updated and those who have merely tested negative in recent days for Covid will no longer be allowed into concerts, movies or performances.
Coronavirus: What you need to know
The number of new Covid infections in Italy has been on a gradual rise for the past six weeks, even before concerns arose about the new Omicron variant.
It's a worrying trend, as Italians plan holiday parties and getaways to spend time with friends and family.
Christmas travel and holiday gatherings were strictly limited last year due to a steeper rise in Covid cases.
Instead of making jabs mandatory, Italy is instead tightening restrictions on the unvaccinated, while allowing those who are vaccinated go about life more or less as usual.
Italy’s vaccination rate is higher than many of its neighbours, at 85% of the eligible population aged 12 and older and 77% of the total population.
But people in their 30s, 40s and 50s have proved the most reluctant to get vaccinated, with nearly 3.5 million still not having received their first dose.
They are also the same age group that is now being hardest hit by the virus, according to Silvio Brusaferro, head of Italy’s National Health Institute.
Also starting from Monday, people must have a health pass to access local public transportation and stay in hotels.
In Milan, authorities said health passes will be checked before people are allowed on to the subway or buses.
With the Christmas shopping season heating up, many cities including Rome and Milan have ordered mask mandates even outdoors.
Public health officials say vaccinations, along with prudent public behaviour including wearing masks in crowds, are key to reducing infection levels as winter weather pushes more activities indoors.
They credit Italy’s relatively high level of immunisation as one reason that the infection curve is not as steep as last winter, when broad restrictions were imposed with the spread of the Delta variant.
“It is clear that after two years of the pandemic, we cannot easily close schools to physical classes and shut down economic activity,” said Gianni Rezza, the health ministry’s director of prevention.
“Therefore, you can try to keep the virus spread down with measures that are sustainable, and with proper use of the health pass. Then the big bet is on the vaccinations.”
What is happening across Europe amid fears of the Omicron variant?
Other countries in continental Europe have pursued different approaches to tackle Covid infections, with some opting for mandatory vaccination laws.
Last month, Austria announced that its citizens would be legally required to get jabbed.
The country also enforced a partial lockdown that restricted the movement of its unvaccinated citizens. A full nationwide lockdown was later brought in.
ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports from Austria, one of the continent's numerous Covid hotspots
Germany's health minister last month delivered the stark warning that "by the end of this winter, pretty much everyone in Germany...will have been vaccinated, recovered or died". Lawmakers in the country approved new Covid measures banning unvaccinated people from using public transport as cases topped 50,000 for the third day running.
That's now been extended to ban the unjabbed from non-essential shops, hospitality venues and large parts of public life. In a bid to combat weeks of spiralling cases, the legislation will require employees to prove they are vaccinated, recovered from Covid, or have tested negative in order to access communal workplaces.
Spain has ruled out mandatory vaccination, despite a sharp rise in Covid cases.
But from December 1, unvaccinated British people have been banned from entering Spain.
The country made the announcement after an increase in infections, following the appearance of the Omicron variant.
The new restrictions does not apply to British people who are resident in Spain, a spokeswoman for Spain’s Industry, Trade and Tourism said.
France has not made vaccinations mandatory for ordinary citizens, but healthcare workers are legally required to get the jab in the country.
More than 75% of France's total population has been fully vaccinated.
Health passes are required to enter venues in France. The country's health minister has described passes as a "powerful incentive" to get jabbed.
The country has tightened Covid rules, capping indoor events to 200 people.
Kindergartens and primary schools are set to close a week earlier than planned too, while children aged six and above must wear face coverings.