In Italy, debate rages over No Vax lockdown

Regional leaders urge hardline stance against unvaccinated but government says not necessary for now.

A controversial proposal that would see Italy's coronavirus restrictions only apply to those who are unvaccinated is the subject of heated debate between politicians, virologists and the general public.

This week several regional governors pressed the government to follow the so-called Austria model with restrictive measures applying only to unvaccinated people.

Italy is currently in the lowest-risk 'white zone' category of coronavirus restrictions, however a wave of new covid infections is putting some regions at risk of becoming low-moderate 'yellow zones' where stricter rules apply.

The prospect of any closures or restrictions, especially in the lead-up to Christmas, is a source of concern to some governors whose radical 'No Vax' proposal has been backed by two former Italian premiers: Matteo Renzi, leader of the centrist Italia Viva, and Enrico Letta, leader of the centre-left Partito Democratico.

"The restrictions cannot be borne by the vaccinated" - the president of Italy's conference of regions, Friuli Venezia Giulia governor Massimiliano Fedriga, told newspaper Il Giornale - "It would be excessive to make the situation weigh on those who have taken two or even three doses, protecting themselves and the community."

The matter is the source of division among the governors too. Vincenzo De Luca, the tough-talking president of the Campania region around Naples said that the only option left to convince anti-vaxxers to get vaccinated is "napalm and flamethrowers".

The governor of the northern Veneto region, Luca Zaia, took a sceptical view of Italy adopting the so-called Austrian model, saying: "I think it would be difficult for us to apply from a constitutional point of view."

On Wednesday Mario Draghi's government poured cold water on the governors' request, for now at least, focusing instead on its vaccination campaign, rolling out the third dose of the covid vaccine, and pushing for stricter controls of mask-wearing in outdoor crowds.

Walter Ricciardi, a senior advisor to the health ministry, said that Italy does not need to follow the example of Austria which, he said, took the decision "because it is behind with the vaccination campaign" and had an incidence of covid cases "10 times higher than ours", reports news agency ANSA.

Meanwhile the governors have gone back to the drawing board, according to newspaper La Repubblica, with a new proposal set to ask for lockdown restrictions to apply only to the unvaccinated if and when regions pass from yellow to the medium-high risk orange zone, in order to keep restaurants and businesses open.

Speaking on Italian radio on Thursday, deputy health minister Pierpaolo Sileri said: "A lockdown for the unvaccinated is not the strategy to be implemented with the current numbers, but it could be considered in the case of a move to an orange zone", before stressing that currently the "situation is under control."

Also on Thursday, the high-profile virologist Andrea Crisanti of the University of Padua, described the ongoing debate as a "no vax witch hunt".

In relation to potential restrictions for the unvaccinated, Crisanti said: "In Italy the anti-vaxxers, demonstrating and gathering together, completely cancel the protection effect that we vaccinated people give them, there the virus spreads like a bomb. So the only restriction to be made is to prevent them from demonstrating without protection."

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