On September 25 at 5 p.m., Daniel Vezzoli, 34, stood in front of the town hall in Bergamo, in northern Italy. He was responding to a call to action he had read on Telegram earlier in the week. “Demonstrations against the dictatorship, organized by the people, apolitical, in more than 120 cities”, we read.
Along with 400 other people, Vezzoli traveled to the historic city center to demonstrate against the latest Italian update of the European Covid-19 passport, also known as the Green Pass. The document, which is expected to last until the end of the year, makes Italy the first European country to make coronavirus health passes compulsory for workers in the public and private sector, from 15 October.
The Green Pass, which is mandatory to access public areas such as indoor restaurants, gymnasiums and cinemas, does not make vaccination compulsory. Residents have the option to take a quick test every 48 hours, but many complain that they can cost up to 50 euros each and often require advance reservations, making the process complex and expensive.
In response, thousands of vaccine and Covid-19 skeptics have gathered in cities across Italy, including Rome, Milan and Trieste. In Bergamo, the protest organizers took turns against the Green Pass and the government’s vaccination program. “Truth, truth, truth,” they chanted. “Keep your hands away from our children. ”
In Bergamo, such demonstrations have a particularly dark significance. As the early epicenter of the pandemic, residents saw military trucks hauling corpses out of town. The extended province of Bergamo had seen an estimated 500% increase in deaths in March 2020, largely attributed to Covid-19. Between March and May 2020, nearly 9,000 people died there, more than 6,000 more than in 2019. During the second wave, between October 2020 and January 2021, Lombardy – the region in which is located Bergamo – has recorded over 30% of all national coronavirus deaths. .
“For us doctors the last year and a half has been incredibly difficult, not only physically, but also emotionally,” said Dr Paola Pedrini, secretary of the medical association of the province of Bergamo. “Now that more and more people are getting vaccinated, we can finally breathe. “
These harrowing memories seem to mean little to people like Paolo Candellero, one of the organizers of the protest. “The vast majority of people who have decided to inject this drug are going through difficult times,” he told the crowd at the demonstration. “They die more, they infect others more. You can find documents proving this everywhere.
Protests over Covid-19 vaccines and the Green Pass have rocked Italian cities since July, when the government first mandated him. Crowds have gathered across Italy every Saturday, demanding the release of regulations they see as infringing their civil liberties. Similar protests also took place across Europe. In France, a large number of people took to the streets of the country for eight consecutive weeks. In Germany and the Netherlands, thousands of demonstrators marched against what they call “medical apartheid”.
On messaging platforms such as Telegram, groups such as Basta Dittatura (Stop the Dictatorship), which has 50,000 followers across Italy, have been speaking out against the national response to the pandemic for months.
Conspiracy theories of a health dictatorship, or “dittatura sanitaria”, are rife on social media. Critics also share crazy ideas about the origin of the virus, reports of suspected vaccine-related deaths, and unproven “alternative” remedies, such as the pest control drug ivermectin and vitamin D.
The rally in Bergamo was one of the smallest nationwide protests, but in Rome and Milan the numbers were said to have ranged from 2,000 to 4,000. In the latter two towns, protests ended in clashes with the police.
According to medical professionals, the current distrust of national pandemic measures can be attributed to misinformation and general weariness over restrictions. “People have forgotten a lot about the past year,” said Dr Guido Marinoni, head of the Bergamo medical association. “These events are etched in history. It was a tragedy. This situation can only be compared to a war.
Doctors agree vaccination rates are high enough to have hope for the coming winter, with more than 75% of the eligible Italian population having received a full set of vaccines. But skeptics could still hamper the gains made over the past 18 months.
“The people who don’t want to be vaccinated are still millions,” Marinoni said. “In Bergamo, people constantly claim that they are exempt from the vaccine for the most bizarre reasons, and sometimes it is stressful.”
In Bergamo, opponents recently drew up a document mocking the Green Pass. The so-called Free Pass was reportedly designed by a law firm established during the pandemic, named Comicost – short for Committee for Constitutional Freedom. It states that EU regulations discriminate against people who refuse to be vaccinated and that people have the constitutional right to access any place and move freely in the country, without have to comply with Green Pass requirements.
Comicost’s Telegram group now has over 20,000 members. In mid-September, the Bergamo bar chief said the document would be investigated for possible violations of its code of conduct.
The “Free Pass” has appeared on several other Telegram channels, including one called “Bergamo University Students against the Green Pass”, run by 21-year-old Federico Di Ceglie, who is studying law at the University of Bergamo. When the Green Pass was announced in August, it joined a nationwide effort among students to oppose the mandate. The national movement, he says, has between 20,000 and 30,000 members.
While Di Ceglie doesn’t think his movement is powerful enough to influence government decisions, he believes it is important to oppose state-imposed pandemic restrictions. “I don’t think the Green Pass is just meant to be a Covid passport,” he said. “This is not a short-term measure, but a long-term measure, and I think the government will continue to apply it in different ways, even after the pandemic is over. This is unacceptable.