Protests and blockades: Italy braces for new COVID rules

Rome, Italy - Italy braced for nationwide protests, blockades, and potential disruption Friday as tough new coronavirus restrictions for workers came into effect.

All workers must show a so-called Green Pass, offering proof of vaccination, recent recovery from Covid-19, or a negative test -- or face being declared absent without pay.

More than 86 percent of Italians over the age of 12 have received at least one jab, thus automatically qualifying for the certification.

But up to three million workers are estimated to be unvaccinated -- and most will only be able to work if they pay for their own tests either every 48 or 72 hours, depending on the type.

They include large numbers in the freight industry -- and with many angry at the new rules and refusing to comply, there are fears of widespread economic disruption.

Ivano Russo, director-general of Confetra, a trade group, told AFP that out of a total of 900,000 truck drivers, couriers, and warehouse staff employed by members of his lobby, "25-30 percent" do not have Covid certificates.

Dockworkers in Trieste, a major hub in the northeast, have threatened to go on strike indefinitely, despite being offered free Covid tests. The same privilege has been extended to some dockers in Genoa, in the northwest. "The real problem with the Green Pass for the port of Genoa, in general for all ports, will be road haulage," Roberto Gulli of the Uil trade union told La Repubblica newspaper.

"There could be chaos on Friday." Nevertheless, more than 560,000 Green Passes were downloaded on Wednesday, according to government data, suggesting that the advent of the new rules was boosting vaccinations.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi's government has defended the Green Pass as a way of avoiding further lockdowns in Italy, where the economy is expected to record almost six percent growth this year after a devastating Covid-induced recession. Ministers looked unlikely to concede to calls for free Covid tests for all, but the ANSA news agency reported that they were considering larger tax breaks for firms that pay for them. Anti-pass protests were also expected across Italy on Friday, but the government hopes to avoid a repeat of last weekend's demonstrations in Rome which degenerated into violent clashes inflamed by far-right militants.

Trade unions on Saturday are also planning an anti-fascist rally.