It comes as the Italian government announced some of the strictest anti-COVID measures in the world, making it obligatory for all workers either to show proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from infection.
The new rules will come into force on October 15 in the latest effort by Prime Minister Mario Draghi’s broad coalition to persuade people to get inoculated and blunt contagion in one of the countries worst-hit by the virus.
Any worker who fails to present a valid health certificate will be suspended on no pay, but cannot be sacked.
People who ignore the decree and go to work regardless will face a fine of between 600 to 1,500 euros (£511- £1,279) . The sanction for employers will be 400-1000 euros (£341 – £852).
“Nothing like this has been done in Europe…we are putting ourselves in the forefront internationally,” said Public Administration Minister Renato Brunetta.
He added the government expected an “enormous” acceleration of jabs simply by the announcement of the decree, so that much of its desired effect could be achieved before it actually comes into effect in a month’s time.
While some European Union states have ordered their health workers to get vaccines, none have made the so-called “Green Pass” mandatory for all employees, making Italy a test case for the continent.
There have been sporadic protests around the country in recent weeks against the growing pressure to get a jab, but most political parties as well as the main employers’ federation have backed the move, hoping it will prevent further lockdowns.
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 surfaced in early 2020.
Around 74% of its 60-million-strong population have had at least one COVID-19 shot and 68% are fully vaccinated, figures broadly in line with most other EU countries.
Italy in March ordered health workers to get vaccinated or face suspension. As of today, 728 doctors have been suspended, the doctors’ federation said on Thursday. It was not immediately clear how many nurses or carers had refused to comply.
The UK government has said it is likely to require front-line health and social care workers in England to be vaccinated as part of a plan to contain the virus during winter.
In France, President Emmanuel Macron’s decision in mid-July to require a similar health pass to go anywhere from restaurants to gyms and museums, and make the jab mandatory for health workers, massively increased vaccination take-up.
The mandate for workers in hospitals and care homes took effect on Wednesday and according to local daily Nice Matin, nearly 450 health workers – out of 7,500 – have been suspended in just one hospital in the city of Nice, in southern France.
Health Minister Olivier Veran told French RTL radio there were 27 million workers in the sector and only a few cases where it has affected care as most suspended staff work in support roles.
He said: “Most of the suspensions are only temporary…many have decided to get vaccinated as they see that the vaccination mandate is a reality.”