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COVID-19 VACCINES

Italy’s constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in

Judges on Thursday dismissed legal challenges to Italy's vaccine mandate as "inadmissible” and “unfounded”, as 1.9 million people face fines for refusing the jab.

Italy's constitutional court upholds Covid vaccine mandate as fines kick in
People protest in Rome in January 2022 against vaccine requirements intended to stem the spread of Covid-19. Italy's Constitutional Court on Thursday upheld the vaccine mandates introduced in 2021. (Photo by Filippo MONTEFORTE / AFP)

Judges were asked this week to determine whether or not vaccine mandates introduced by the previous government during the pandemic – which applied to healthcare and school staff as well as over-50s – breached the fundamental rights set out by Italy’s constitution.

Italy became the first country in Europe to make it obligatory for healthcare workers to be vaccinated, ruling in 2021 that they must have the jab or be transferred to other roles or suspended without pay.

The Constitutional Court upheld the law in a ruling published on Thursday, saying it considered the government’s requirement for healthcare personnel to be vaccinated during the pandemic period neither unreasonable nor disproportionate.

Judges ruled other questions around the issue as inadmissible “for procedural reasons”, according to a court statement published on Thursday.

This was the first time the Italian Constitutional Court had ruled on the issue, after several regional courts previously dismissed challenges to the vaccine obligation on constitutional grounds.

A patient being administered a Covid jab.

Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

One Lazio regional administrative court ruled in March 2022 that the question of constitutional compatibility was “manifestly unfounded”.

Such appeals usually centre on the question of whether the vaccine requirement can be justified in order to protect the ‘right to health’ as enshrined in the Italian Constitution.

READ ALSO: Italy allows suspended anti-vax doctors to return to work

Meanwhile, fines kicked in from Thursday, December 1st, for almost two million people in Italy who were required to get vaccinated under the mandate but refused.

This includes teachers, law enforcement and healthcare workers, and the over 50s, who face fines of 100 euros each under rules introduced in 2021.

Thursday was the deadline to justify non-compliance with the vaccination mandate due to health reasons, such as having contracted Covid during that period.

Italy’s health minister on Friday however appeared to suggest that the new government may choose not to enforce the fines.

“It could cost more for the state to collect the fines” than the resulting income, Health Minister Orazio Schillaci told Radio Rai 1.

He went on to say that it was a matter for the Economy and Finance Ministry, but suggested that the government was drawing up an amendment to the existing law.

READ ALSO: Covid vaccines halved Italy’s death toll, study finds

The League, one of the parties which comprises the new hard-right government, is pushing for fines for over-50s to be postponed until June 30th 2023.

Prime Minister Giorgia Meloni had promised a clear break with her predecessor’s health policies, after her Brothers of Italy party railed against the way Mario Draghi’s government handled the pandemic in 2021 when it was in opposition.

At the end of October, shortly after taking office, the new government allowed doctors, nurses and other healthcare professionals to return to work earlier than planned after being suspended for refusing the Covid vaccine.

There has been uncertainty about the new government’s stance after the deputy health minister in November cast doubt on the efficacy of Covid-19 vaccines, saying he was “not for or against” vaccination.

Italy’s health ministry continues to advise people in at-risk groups to get a booster jab this winter, and this week stressed in social media posts that vaccination against Covid-19 and seasonal flu remained “the most effective way to protect ourselves and our loved ones, especially the elderly and frail”.

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POLITICS

Swedish government offers tax deferral to businesses

High energy prices and high inflation are hitting Sweden's businesses hard. With energy price subsidies for these consumers delayed, the government is now extending existing tax deferral schemes implemented during the pandemic to ease the pressure.

Swedish government offers tax deferral to businesses

Finance Minister Elisabeth Svantesson and Energy and Business Minister Ebba Busch announced the scheme at a press conference on Thursday.

“Many, many companies are now struggling with their liquidity,” Svantesson said.

The deferral scheme is similar to that proposed by the previous government in order to ease the effects of the Covid-19 pandemic on companies, which was due to run out in February. The government has now proposed extending this scheme, allowing companies to delay their tax payments.

“These proposals will make things easier for many businesses,” Svantesson said.

The tax deferral scheme is not, Busch explained, being introduced as a replacement for the energy price subsidy for businesses which was supposed to be paid out “before Christmas” and which has now been withdrawn temporarily while the government figures out how it can be introduced without breaking EU law.

“No, rather this is a measure we’ve been looking at for a while, which should be seen as a complement,” she said.

According to rough estimates, the government believes that around 12,000 companies will apply for tax deferral, which would mean around 16 billion kronor in tax payments being delayed until a later date.

Företagarna, Sweden’s largest organisation of business owners representing around 60,000 companies across different branches, has welcomed the move, despite also voicing criticism that it’s just pushing these problems further into the future.

“It’s a loan and all loans need to be paid back over time,” Företagarna’s CEO Günther Mårder said.

Företagarna did, however, agree that the scheme will be necessary for some businesses to survive.

“Most companies going under are doing so because of liquidity problems, and this new measure will strengthen liquidity in the short-term,” Mårder said, adding that the measure could “save businesses”.

However, with many businesses already owing back taxes delayed during the pandemic, Mårder believes this could just be adding to the mountain of debt already faced by some companies.

“It means it will be record-breakingly difficult to get over this hump,” he said. “What they’re doing now is pushing problems into the future, and of course, that’s also a solution.”

The Confederation of Swedish Enterprise is positive towards the government’s proposal, adding that the many Swedish companies are currently in a difficult situation.

“Since the repayment of bottleneck revenues [energy price subsidies] is delayed, it is good and fair that companies have the opportunity to extend their tax deferrals,” Jonas Frycklund, vice chief finance officer of the Confederation of Swedish Enterprise wrote in a statement.

“This will lower the risk of having to let employees go unnecessarily.”

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