Italy's President Calls Violent Protests Over COVID-19 Passes 'Painful' for Nation

Italian President Sergio Mattarella spoke out against episodes of violence besieging the nation over its new coronavirus workplace health pass requirement, calling the outburst an attempt to usurp Italy's economic recovery.

Speaking at the University of Pisa, Mattarella lauded the country's patriotic response to the pandemic when it became the first European country to deal with an onslaught of COVID cases. Italy was the first country in Europe to impose nationwide lockdowns and its resident have shown compliance with mask-wearing and social distancing efforts.

That's why, Matarella said, it was "painful and surprising" to see violence erupt over the vaccine requirements, "not during the dark moments when we feared the collapse of the country, but now, today when we see an encouraging economic, social and cultural recovery."

For more reporting from the Associated Press, see below.

Italy Riots
Italy's president has condemned the violence that has broken out in the country over COVID restrictions. Police use water cannons and tear gas to disperse the dockers blocking gate 4 while demonstrating against the Green Pass in the port of Trieste following a three-day demonstration against a new mandatory workplace COVID-19 pass, on October 18, 2021 STRINGER/ANSA/AFP/Getty Images

Mattarella spoke out as riot police again clashed with protesters at the port in the northern city of Trieste, at times using water cannons to push them back. The protesters, who have included right-wing agitators in previous episodes, opposed Italy's Green Pass requirement.

On Friday, Italy became the first major European economy to require all workers — from hairdressers to factory workers — to present proof of vaccination, a negative test within the past 48 hours or proof of having recently recovered from COVID-19 to enter workplaces. The pass had already been required to enter indoor venues like restaurants, museums and theaters, or for long-distance domestic travel.

The government says the measure is necessary to ensure workplaces are safe so that Italy's economy, which shrank 8.9 percent last year, can recover. Opponents say the requirement violates their rights and imposes unfair burdens on workers and employers alike.

In a speech opening the academic year at the University of Pisa, Mattarella praised the civic sense of duty that Italians showed when Italy became the first country in the West to get slammed by the virus. In the year since, Italians have largely abided by mask mandates and social distancing to try to keep infections at bay.

Mattarella said the "explosion" of violence seems "aimed at intercepting or getting in the way of the country's recovery" which he said was owed to younger generations who have suffered years of economic stagnation.

The aim of the Green Pass requirement is to encourage even higher vaccination rates beyond the current 81 percent of Italy's population over age 12 who are fully inoculated.

Italy has kept the latest Delta variant resurgence largely under control, reporting around 67 cases per 100,000 inhabitants over the past two weeks and a daily official death toll that hasn't exceeded 70 for months.