By Lorenzo Tondo

Italy’s prime minister has announced his government could make Covid-19 vaccines mandatory, sparking a row in the country that has seen a recent rise in protests and violence from anti-vaxxers.

During a press conference on Thursday, Mario Draghi said all Italians of eligible age could soon be obliged to get a shot, as soon as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) gives its conditional approval for four vaccines.

The news sparked protests by anti-vaxxers who, in recent days, have sent death threats to members of the government, virologists, health officials and journalists, because of their pro-vax stances.

Prosecutors in Turin on Tuesday have launched an investigation into an antivax chat group on Telegram, where members posted death threats against foreign minister, Luigi Di Maio.

“Another rat to be executed,” “We need lead,” and “You must die,” were some of the messages.

On Sunday night, a top virologist and expert in infectious diseases at Genoa’s San Martino hospital, Matteo Bassetti, was approached by a man, who started following him and shouting, “You’re going to kill all of us with these vaccines and we’re going to make you pay.”

Travellers at Tiburtina train station in Rome

The next day, during a sit-in outside the education ministry by anti-vaxxers, a journalist from the Italian national newspaper La Repubblica was attacked by a protester who punched him in the face.Advertisement

Draghi expressed “full solidarity to all those who have been subjected to the hateful and cowardly violence on the part of anti-vaxxers.”

The protests began after the government extended the Covid-19 green pass – a digital or paper certificate that shows whether someone has received at least one Covid-19 vaccine dose, or a negative Covid test, taken no more than 48 hours before using trains, planes, ferries and coaches. In Italy, the green pass is also needed for long-distance travel and is mandatory for school workers.

In Turin, some teachers announced they had launched a lawsuit against a school principal, after they were prevented from entering classes without green passes.

Draghi, who has said 80% of Italians will be vaccinated against Covid-19 by the end of September, announced that his government is working to further extend the use of the green pass to other leisure activities, as the country could become the first in Europe to make the vaccination mandatory for all, when EU health authorities give their full approval.

According to media reports, EMA could reach a final decision by the end of next week.

The news in Italy has caused numerous tensions even within the ruling coalition. League leader, Matteo Salvini, said he will vote ‘‘no’’, citing his party will always be “against obligations, fines and discrimination.”

Currently, in Italy, the vaccine is mandatory only for medical workers. The country was the first to introduce compulsory vaccinations for doctors, followed by France.

At the moment, only Indonesia, the federated states of Micronesia and Turkmenistan have introduced compulsory vaccinations for all.

In the rest of the world, jabs are mandatory only for certain categories of workers.

In Greece, all healthcare workers will have to be vaccinated by the end of September. In the UK, starting in October, it will be mandatory for nursing home operators.

Early in August, France passed a law that made vaccinations mandatory for health workers, while Russia ordered all workers with public facing roles to be vaccinated against Covid-19, with companies given a month to ensure at least 60% of staff had received first doses, or they would face fines, or temporary closure.

The US president, Joe Biden, has urged local governments to pay people to get vaccinated and establish new rules, requiring federal workers to provide proof of vaccination, or face regular testing, mask mandates and travel restrictions.

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