ROME — Italy’s anti-vaxxers are being cast adrift.
Tough new rules that came into force Monday mean that anyone without a health pass showing they have been vaccinated or recently recovered from COVID-19 can no longer use public transport.
That’s a big problem for people living on Venice’s islands.
Like many island-dwellers, Eleonora de Nat, who lives on Giudecca, sees herself as self-sufficient. A personal trainer and martial arts champion, she says she doesn’t need the vaccine: “I am healthy and the vaccine doesn’t guarantee anything.”
But now De Nat, one of an estimated 5,000 unvaccinated residents of the islands in the Venetian lagoon, is trapped without access to the mainland.
As the Omicron variant sweeps across Italy, and everywhere else, the national government is getting tougher on the unvaccinated, in a bid to avoid another lockdown and to protect the economy.
“We must not lose sight of the reason for dismay — that most of our problems stem from the fact that there are unvaccinated people,” Prime Minister Mario Draghi said at a press conference Monday. Unvaccinated people are becoming a burden on hospitals, he said. “The more we reduce pressure on hospitals, the more we can be free.”
From February, vaccination will be mandatory for the over-50s and, starting this week, anyone planning on using public transport must present a health pass.
In Venice, that rule means unvaccinated islanders can’t use the water buses — Vaporetto — that are the main source of transport.
According to De Nat, COVID-19 tests aren’t available on the island, her doctor is on the mainland, and supermarkets on Giudecca are more expensive than those in central Venice.
She has a season ticket for the vaporetto and says she will continue to use it — unless stopped. “I am fine with civil disobedience. If we all do it, it will be OK,” she said.
Mainlanders are also experiencing difficulties.
Ernesto Peschiuta, who lives in the historic center near the Arsenale, said he decided not to get vaccinated after taking advice from a doctor friend. The 70-year-old usually collects his granddaughter from school using the Vaporetto because walking would be too difficult for him and involve crossing at least seven bridges.
“They will have to physically force me” to get vaccinated, Peschiuta said. “I will not give them the satisfaction of giving in. I will pay the €100 fine. I will resist.”
Luigi Corò, president of the CMP citizens’ rights group, who organized a protest against the rules on Saturday, said: “People are very angry. They cannot even go and buy a pair of underpants. The older people cannot go to the Rialto fish market and get their fish where they have always got it.”
He estimated that only about 5 percent of Venetians have a private boat that they could use, and even those who do cannot moor them in the city center without risking a fine. “And in this weather, with rain and wind you get sick if you travel in an open-top boat.”
Following an appeal by the mayor of Venice to the government, the Ministry of Health over the weekend announced an exemption from the public transport ban for all schoolchildren and those who need to take the water ferry for health reasons.
But Corò said this wasn’t enough as people need to accompany their children to school. “A nine- or 10-year-old cannot travel alone,” he said. The rules are creating divisions, with a risk of social unrest and violence, he added. “People are desperate. They are going out of their minds.”
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