Things Are Getting Messy In Draghi’s Italy

Sixteen percent of the country’s officially employed workforce just lost their jobs (temporarily for the moment). And as one would expect, they’re not happy.  

It is a strange experience watching the events currently unfolding in Italy from the relative calm and normality of Catalonia. As I reported in August, Spain’s Supreme Court ruled against the use of covid passports to restrict access to public spaces — specifically hospitality businesses (bars, restaurants and nightclubs). Since then the court has scaled back the ruling, allowing certain regions, including Galicia and Catalonia, to use the digital documents to restrict access to bars and nightclubs. But things are still moving quite slowly though I’m sure they’ll pick up speed soon. Italy, by contrast, has just introduced the strictest rules in Europe.

“No Jab, No Job” Writ Large

As of last Friday all residents of Italy need a covid passport, or Green Pass, to access not only public spaces but also public and private workplaces. The pass proves that they have either been vaccinated against Covid-19, have recovered from the disease in the past six months or have recently tested negative. And now they need it to make a living, to feed their families.

The “no jab, no job” rule applies to workers of all kinds, including the self employed, domestic staff and even people working remotely. If you’d still rather not get vaccinated, you have the option of showing proof of a negative test every two days. That can cost anywhere between €15 and €50 each time — far beyond the means of most low-paid workers. If you still refuse to get vaccinated or present proof of negative tests, you face unpaid suspension as well as a fine of up to €1,500. Public sector workers have five days to present the green pass before being suspended. Private sector workers without a green pass face suspension from the first day.

Here’s more from Politico (comment and emphasis in brackets my own):

By law, all workers must be able to show a so-called Green Pass, proving they are vaccinated against COVID-19 or have tested negative in the past 48 hours. Roughly 81 percent of Italians over 12 are fully vaccinated.
While polls suggest the majority of Italians are in favor of vaccine passes (just as the majority of people in all countries are in favour of vaccine passes, according to polls), there are still 3.8 million unvaccinated workers, many in strategic sectors and public services such as ports, trucking, health care and law enforcement, who will be unable to work.

Massive Cull of Workers

This is by any measure a massive cull of workers. Three point eight million is more than 5% of Italy’s entire population and over 16% of the country’s officially employed workforce (22.7 million). The total number of people currently unemployed in Italy is 2.3 million. In other words, if none of the unvaccinated workers were to cave in to the government’s demands — some will, of course, we just don’t know how many — the number of people without work in Italy would increase by well over 150% — in the space of just one week! And as the Politico article mentions, many of these workers are in strategic sectors and public services.

This is all happening as Europe — and the world at large — faces the worst supply chain crisis in decades as well as acute energy and labor shortages. The move also risks giving a huge boost to Italy’s already quite large informal economy. Given as much, this is a huge, high-stakes bluff on the part of Draghi’s technocratic government, which was formed eighth months ago. If it pays off, the vast majority of Italy’s vaccine holdouts will fall into line and go back to work, and other governments across Europe will follow suit with similar mandates. If it doesn’t, Italy’s economy could be plunged into chaos.

So far, data suggest that the government’s “no jab, no job” rule hasn’t exactly had the desired effect. When the rule was initially unveiled, on September 16, Italy’s Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta said it would trigger such a “huge” boost vaccination take-up that its job would largely be done before it even came into effect. That hasn’t happened. As El Mundo reports, in the week through Oct.8 some 410,000 people received the first dose, according to official data, a 36% drop from the previous week and the lowest weekly count since early July. 

Over the last few days the response of many of the affected workers has been to stage rolling strikes and protests across the country. Roads and ports have been blocked. This has coincided with hundreds of flight cancellations due to strikes by workers at the former flagship airline Alitalia, which flew its last flight on Thursday. There have also been violent demonstrations by far-right groups such as Casa Pound and Forza Nuova as well as a 24-hour general strike held last week by unions to protest the government’s labour and economic policies.

Since Friday Italy’s largest port, Trieste, 40% of whose employees are unvaccinated, has been an important focal point of industrial action.

“There are no blockades, whoever wants to work does,” said Stefano Puzzer, leader of the protest against the health pass in the port of Trieste, on Friday. Yet although the strike was reportedly entirely peaceful and workers who wanted to work were allowed to do so, riot  police yesterday used water cannons and tear gas to evict the longshoremen.

One Little Flaw

The ostensible logic behind the government’s latest mandate is that by “nudging” almost everyone who can get vaccinated to get vaccinated, it will help the country finally achieve herd immunity and thereby eliminate the virus. Also, work spaces will become much safer places because all workers will either have been fully vaccinated against covid-19, will have natural immunity or will have recently tested negative for the virus.

There’s just one little flaw in the plan: the current crop of covid-19 vaccines are rather “leaky”, particularly with regard to the Delta variant. As such, people who are vaccinated are still liable to catch and transmit the virus and in some countries (such as the UK) the vaccinated account for more cases (in nominal terms) than the unvaccinated. In addition, what protection the vaccines do provide tends to wane rapidly. At the peak of Israel’s latest wave of infections, in August, half of the seriously ill hospitalized patients had been fully vaccinated at least five months prior, reported NPR. 

Which begs the question: if a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person have a similar capacity to carry, shed and transmit the virus, particularly in its Delta form and even more so after four of five months after vaccination, what difference does implementing a vaccination passport, certificate or ID actually make to the spread of the virus?

Vaccine Passport: An End In and Of Itself?

In sum, Italy just unleashed the most severe de facto vaccine mandate in Europe on the basis of a vaccine that doesn’t actually work very well and is still only authorised by the European Medical Agency for emergency use. To give an idea of just how extreme the Draghi government’s position now is, the only other country in the world to have introduced a mandatory Covid passport for all workers is Saudi Arabia, reports Thomas Fazi in a recent article:

With these changes, we are effectively stripping citizens who haven’t broken any law whatsoever (in Italy, like elsewhere, Covid vaccines are not mandatory) of their basic constitutional rights — the right to work, to study, to move freely. That should give anyone reason to pause and reflect. This kind of discrimination is also in direct violation of EU Regulation 2021/953, which states that “[t]he issuance of [Covid] certificates… should not lead to discrimination on the basis of the possession of a specific category of certificate”, and that “[i]t is necessary to prevent direct or indirect discrimination against persons who are not vaccinated, for example because of medical reasons… or because they have not yet had the opportunity or chose not to be vaccinated”.
This is also echoed by Resolution 2361 (2021) of the Council of Europe. In fact, the word “discrimination” doesn’t even begin to do justice to what we are witnessing in Italy. Representatives of the political, medical and media establishment have openly accused the unvaccinated of being “rats”“subhumans” and “criminals”, who deserve to be “excluded from public life” and “from the national health service” and even to “die like flies”. Perhaps more worryingly, both prime minister Mario Draghi and the president Sergio Mattarella have accused the unvaccinated of “putting the lives of others at risk” (a claim based on the assumption that the vaccinated aren’t contagious).

That claim has now been thoroughly disproved by myriad scientific studies, as Yves painstakingly documented in August. So why do governments continue to repeat it? Why aren’t they rethinking their strategy? Perhaps, as Fazi postulates, the green pass is not just a means to an end — mass vaccination — but also an end in and of itself:

The Italian economic-political establishment has a long history of invoking, embellishing or even engineering crises — usually economic in nature — to justify technocratic governments and emergency measures, as well as the sidestepping of the normal channels of democracy. In this sense, it is not outlandish to posit that the country’s elites, under Draghi’s leadership, may view the current conjecture as a golden opportunity to complete the oligarchisation of the country they’ve been working at for the past decades (and in which Mario Draghi has played a central role).
A crucial feature of this process has been the transition from a post-war regime based on the centrality of parliament to one dominated by executive, technocratic and supranational powers, in which the legislature performs a marginal role, thus insulating policymaking from democratic processes. As a result, there has been an increased resort to so-called “technical governments” run by “experts” supposedly untainted by political partisanship and unburdened by the complications of parliamentary politics — as well as the transfer of key policy tools from the national level, where a certain degree of democratic control can always potentially be exercised, to the supranational institutions of the EU, which are undemocratic by design.

Now Draghi is even being heralded in some quarters as a possible new figurehead for Europe in the post-Merkel era. The financial and economic elite are no doubt salivating at the prospect.  

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  1. zagonostra

    Let these two sentences seep in.

    So why do governments continue to repeat it? Why aren’t they rethinking their strategy? Perhaps, as Fazi postulates, the green pass is not just a means to an end — mass vaccination — but also an end in and of itself:

    Now Draghi is even being heralded in some quarters as a possible new figurehead for Europe in the post-Merkel era. The financial and economic elite are no doubt salivating at the prospect.

    1. Emanuela Maria Agostino

      yex, that seems to be the plan….Zagonostra….an end in and of itself….but I am RESISTING….spending swab money but RESISTING…SO FAR

    1. The Rev Kev

      Hmmpph! Suppose the government gave an economy – and nobody turned up. I don’t know what modern-day Italians are like but in the 80s they took their protests seriously – and loudly. Came across one in a street with police on one side and protestors on the other making a huge ruckus with things like metal garbage bins being clanged. In no man’s land was an Italian police senior officer trying to look important while being also uncomfortable. It was a sight.

  2. flora

    The move also risks giving a huge boost to Italy’s already quite large informal economy.

    Indeed. I’m watching to see if the Draghi govt next will try to eliminate cash via its central bank.

  3. outside observer

    “experts” supposedly untainted by political partisanship and unburdened by the complications of parliamentary politics

    Just wow. Democracy is so messy, it interferes with the one overriding principal that rules them all – Greed.

  4. BillS

    The press here in Italy continually conflates no-vax with anti-Green Pass protests. Granted, there is a lot of cross-over between the two movements, but there are distinct differences that the local journalists stenographers continually ignore. As far as I see, the anti-vax tends to be dominated by far right elements whereas the the anti-Green Pass has a more even distribution across the political spectrum (seen as antidemocratic on both left and right).

    It is my opinion that the Italian government should have issued a vaccine mandate early on and avoided the creation of the Green Pass. What they have done with the Green Pass is create a two-tier antidemocratic system that people were bound to rebel against. A middle way would have been to provide free testing to those not vaccinated instead of the present hard line and all the moralizing.

    The weekend television shows “La Parola della Settimana” and “Che Tempo Che Fa”, hosted by notable center-left personalities aligned with the Democratic Party (Massimo Gramellini and Fabio Fazio) have lately been full of the type of PMC moralizing that US citizens would be familiar with. Moreover, they spew a lot of hot air about how the Green Pass is the only way that “freedom” could be restored and that the vaccines are the only thing that will save us. The uncritical acceptance of the party line is something that I find very disturbing as well as no exploration of alternatives.

  5. Eustachedesaintpierre

    ” Whatever it takes ”

    I’m waiting for a tipping point somewhere – although as I believe that it is the case that such phenomenon only becomes apparent in retrospect, maybe we are already in such a state as the butterfly effects appear to me at least to be increasing & I wouldn’t have thought that long suffering Italy would be the best place to stage such an experiment.


    The cynic in me wonders if this being used as cover for yet more disaster capitalism: vaccine passports are initiated, leading to a not-insignificant chunk of the workforce dropping out in protest. TPTB, in the name of economic stability and the ongoing pandemic conditions, institute “temporary” employment measures to get those openings filled, without the pay grade, benefits, and worker protections enjoyed by those workers that walked over the vaccine requirement.

  7. Punkonomics

    Mass vaccination and permits for vaccinated completely failed in Lithuania. Unless the government wanted to inflict hate and divide in masses, then yes, they succeeded.

  8. Petter

    So, from what can I gather from the article, Italy is in violation of EU regulations and resolutions. Has there been criticism of Italy from the EU? Thinking specifically of Ursula von den Leyden who hasn’t been shy about criticizing Poland and Hungary.

    1. Jokerstein

      Of course not – this is another example of a system where there are some whom the system protects but does not bind, and some whom the system binds but does not protect.

      Technocrats FTW!

  9. Maxwell Johnston

    Having spent most of the summer in Tuscany, I’ve been amazed at the extremely pro-vaccine stance of the government and the media. It’s not just Draghi, it’s across the board. I force myself to watch the nightly TV news to improve my Italian, but the pro-Draghi fawning and the endless Covid coverage is hard to tolerate. Tuscany used taxpayer funds to produce this “Get Vaccinated and Life’ll Be Gr8 Again!” video (only 1 minute, no Italian language skills required) which I think even Goebbels himself would have thought heavy-handed:

    And they all rip off their masks as soon as they’ve been jabbed. Sigh. Words fail me.

  10. annie

    from this you might think that the anti-vax, anti-green pass factions would have cleaned up in very recent big mayoral elections. in fact, the center-left won big in almost all major cities.

    we live in the countryside and our closest friend, who works on the roads for the provincia, supports draghi’s mandate–as do his co-workers. i do know anti-vaxers here. some were also against the measles vax mandated for school attendence. (sound familiar?)

    locally people stay masked, even outside. in the cities, it’s tourists who are most often unmasked. as for ‘ripping off masks after jabs’ (as maxwell johnston attests to above), we were actually in a major vax center yesterday (husband’s 3rd dose) and i saw no masks ripped off before or after.

    1. Maxwell Johnston

      Italians (well, Tuscans anyway) have impressed me with their diligent mask-wearing and social distancing. But the government’s promotion of vaccination as a fix-all annoys me, as does the media worship of Draghi. My concern is that if the vaccines turn out to be a failed solution, the backlash might be huge (and Italy has a long history of organized unrest). So far so good, but hey…..

  11. annie

    i’d like to add this.
    in new york city i know no one who has died of covid. here in italy we personally know several. all of them were what one might call elderly but they all still worked. e.g., a barber, a fabbro, and more recently angelino who repaired everyone’s tools and machines. all were beloved. (these are people we personally knew and interacted with.) italians keep their elderly close. early on in the epidemic an outbreak in the local casa del reposo (nursing home) was severe enough to make the national news. and italians remember viscerally the nightmare in the north in the first months.
    it seems to me that the comments on this post, wondering why more italians aren’t protesting, are not seeing from the inside.

    1. Eustachedesaintpierre

      I can understand why you & others should take that position after what Northern Italy suffered & I remember their ignored warnings of what was in store for others, but I don’t think it is as simple as that because as I imagine the vast majority of vulnerable Italians are double vaxxed & therefore are much less likely to be hospitalised in the present scenario – so they should for the most part be OK.

      The unvaccinated are being a small minority by comparison are extremely unlikely to cause anything like that which occurred in Lombardy & are in fact unless they have gained natural immunity are a bigger threat to themselves. the truth is vaxxed people can still be spreaders & are in some cases acting as though they cannot, so it could be the case that they are a bigger threat to the vulnerable at the moment.

      The other possibility is immune escape resulting in something even more deadly that could possibly initiate that which you fear, which is more likely to occur the higher the vaccination rate. Also Draghi who I personally would not trust in the slightest is setting a precedent which I believe could result in a slippery slope, to somewhere he would fully approve of – I am double vaxxed btw.

      When all you have is a somewhat dodgy hammer.

  12. Joe Well

    >>a vaccinated person and an unvaccinated person have a similar capacity to carry, shed and transmit the virus

    I think you’re misreading the study you linked to. (No shame, a LOT of people have been doing that on this issue.)

    Here is the key paragraph from that study:

    >>Here we use this viral load data to compare the amount of SARS-CoV-2 present in test-positive specimens from people who self-report their vaccine status and date of final immunization, during a period in which the delta variant became the predominant circulating variant in Wisconsin. We find no difference in viral loads when comparing unvaccinated individuals to those who have vaccine “breakthrough” infections.

    That study says that vaccinated and unvaccinated people *who are already infected and get tested* have similar viral loads.

    That does not address the argument that vaccination does reduce someone’s likelihood of getting an infection in the first place and therefore transmitting onward.

    At any rate, studies using contact tracing data have in fact found that even if the vaccinated individual does get infected, they are less likely to transmit onward.

    Here is one study that looked at over 100,000 “index cases” and estimated vaccine effectivess against transmission at 71%. This study also looked at index cases and found similar results.

    “COVID-19 vaccines appear to help prevent transmission between household contacts, with secondary attack rates dropping from 31% to 11% if the index patient was fully vaccinated, according to a Eurosurveillance study yesterday.”

    That is a HUGE difference.

    1. BCD

      Joe the 1st study you referenced is using data from the beginning of the year (February to May 2021) from the Netherlands where there was no Delta variant. The 2nd study also from the beginning of the year states: “the study was conducted before the widespread emergence of the Delta variant and may not reflect vaccine effectiveness under the current mix of circulating strains.” Yves study specifically refers to Delta variant collected in June and July 2021 where each case was sequenced to filter by variant. If infected people are all shedding similar amounts of virus then they will all spread it similarly well.

      There are a lot of people including but not limited to Big Pharma, MSM, CDC, the WH and YOU misrepresenting outdated data from the Alpha variant to overstate the effectiveness of the vaccines.

      The vaccines ability to prevent transmission of Delta is not looking good. I know of a superspreader event where the very vaccinated people who insisted things go back to normal (’cause Uncle Joe wouldn’t lie) and forced a maskless Labor day party were the same people who spread Delta to both vaxxed and unvaxxed at the party, their families and their kids schools which has led to at least 1 death and several close calls (that I know of). The death was unvaxxed which they quickly blamed him for (because otherwise they might have to feel responsible). It was his 2nd symptomatic case of Covid, not sure what its going to take for people to understand that spreading Covid is the problem as opposed to not being unvaxxed since getting vaxxed does little to stop spreading. Wish there was a government other than China trying to control transmission.

      Thank you Yves for trying so hard to get the Covid messaging right! Your efforts are much appreciated

      1. Joe Well

        1. When has Yves cited anything here? In another comment?

        2. Again, the study Nick referenced looked at samples from people already infected. It cannot address likelihood of infection, which obviously affects onward transmission.

        3. If the delta variant affects transmissibility it should affect it both for vaccinated and unvaccinated, ie, there should still be a relative reduction.

        4. I didn’t say this in first comment, but another obvious problem with the study Nick linked to is that there is likely a bias in the data, since vaccinated people are less likely to get tested unless they are showing symptoms, which correlates with a high viral load.

        5. The authors of the study themselves did not draw the conclusion Nick is drawing.

  13. Tony Wright

    What about the fact that the unvaccinated are more likely to require hospitalisation because of greater likelihood of suffering severe Covid19 symptoms?
    The result is overwhelmed hospitals to the exclusion of patients requiring detection of and treatment for other serious ailments – heart attacks, strokes, cancer (best detected early for treatment to be successful), traumatic injury resulting from motor vehicle accidents, gunshot injuries (especially in the US) etc.
    Covid19 vaccination is not a magic bullet, but it certainly reduces the need for hospitalisation or risk of death, and I for one can see no good reason why anybody would not get vaccinated.

    1. disc_writes

      I am vaccinated, after some hesitation. The reason why I did not want the vaccine is that we do not know anything about the long-term safety effects, nor do we know how multiple shots affect safety. I would have liked the EMA/FDA to first do the long-term studies, and then approve the vaccine. Instead, they said “trust us, it works”, and called it a day.

      Another reason that I am against any further vaccination is that I have three pre-teenage boys, and it looks like the vaccines may hurt teenage boys more than Covid (among others, see this notorious agent of Russian disinformation).

      The reason I did get vaccinated in the end, is that I am more afraid of indoctrinated, well-meaning mobs backed by raw state power and 24/7 propaganda, than of the vaccines themselves.

      But since we lack any safety studies, I could be wrong on that.

      1. Tony Wright

        I think that had we waited for the results of long term studies before approving Covid19 vaccines the following would have occurred:
        1. A lot more people would have died,
        2. Health systems would have been completely overwhelmed by Covid19 patients, increasing the adverse health impacts of other diseases and health problems for people excluded from necessary treatments by Covid19 patients,
        3. Even greater adverse economic impacts – and I believe the economic dominoes still have a long way to tumble yet as a result of the economic impacts we have endured already.
        Consequently I believe that rapid development, approval and mass implementation of Covid 19 vaccines has been the lesser evil, albeit by no means a magic bullet.
        As for your sons, like my daughters and grandsons, the fundamental hazard they face is human overpopulation, and the increased conflict, famine and disease which is the inevitable consequence of overpopulation by any species. Oh, and the overpopulation consequence unique to humans because of our profligate use of fossil fuels – anthropogenic climate change.
        Covid19 is the latest disease manifestation of human overpopulation; future global pandemics of other pathogens are inevitable.

        1. disc_writes

          Unforeseen long-term effects of the vaccines may very well still cause 1, 2 and 3. Only worse, and more people will be affected. The fact that you are in a hurry to sole a problem now, does not mean you have to screw it up worse, later.

          As for overpopulation and climate change as hazards: they are a given, but taking the vaccines is a hazard that comes *on top* of them. The fact that future generations will have it worse than we did, does not mean that we are free to impose all sorts of additional hazards upon them while they are still little.

          Forcing the whole world to take vaccines of unknown effectiveness and unknown safety profile is not a good idea. Time will tell if you lucked out this time, or not.

  14. gg

    I am not vaccinated, I have not been infected, I will not let medical treatment be imposed on me if I am not convinced of the consequences. I have had direct feedback from people I know who have had problems with vaccination despite being healthy and not elderly. Draghi and whoever commands him, will fail in his plans. There are more Italians who are silent and disagree on the government, than people think but silent does not mean disinterested. Ad maiora.

    1. Tony Wright

      People who die from Covid19 are not able to provide feedback, but the approximately five percent of living Covid19 infected who suffer ‘long Covid’ do, and it ain’t pretty.

      1. Basil Pesto

        Unfortunately, as far as I’m aware, there’s a surfeit of data on infected vaccinees and long covid outcomes. This might have changed, but the last study from a few months back was reported in the press as ‘vaccinees 50% less likely to have long covid’. Estimates of LC prevalence in unvaccinated covid patients before and since the. have been in a projected range, so far as I’ve seen, of 2.5% to 37%. So 50% of that is = 1.25% to 18.5% of vaccinees with LC symptoms (I found the lower bound estimates unlikely, but 1.25% is still no bueno when you consider that, apparently, we’re all supposed to get infected, and more than once). It’s possible (probable?) that the damage that leads to LC in the infected is attenuated somewhat by the vaccine, though. However I’m not au fait with the latest research on LC in vaccinees.

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