Covid vaccines are now mandatory for the over-50s in Italy as the country moves to alleviate the pressure on the health service.

The measure comes into effect immediately and will continue until 15 June. 

Since the start of the pandemic, over 138,000 coronavirus fatalities have been reported in Italy, the second highest figure in Europe after the UK, Reuters reports. 

The government had already made vaccines compulsory for health workers and teachers, yet since October, all employees have had to show proof of vaccination or a negative test before being allowed in the workplace. 

This latest decree announced on Wednesday cracks down on people over 50 years of age by eliminating the choice of taking a Covid test as opposed to vaccination. The decree gained approval following a two-and-a-half-hour Cabinet meeting.

Prime Minister Mario Draghi told the Cabinet: "Today's measures aim to keep our hospitals functioning well and at the same time keep open schools and business activities.”

However, in contrast, right-wing League ministers released a statement referring to this latest rule as something "without scientific foundation, considering that the absolute majority of those hospitalised with Covid are well over 60."

The League was successful in relaxing a prior draft of the decree, which stated that only vaccinated people or with proof of recent infection could access public offices, non-essential shops, banks, post-offices and hairdressers, the Reuters report goes on to add.

The final decree states that these venues can still permit entry to the unvaccinated providing they show a negative test.

Over the last fortnight, Italy has registered an average of over 150 fatalities per day, with 231 on Wednesday and 259 on Tuesday this week. Wednesday’s figure of 189,109 new cases is the highest since the start of the pandemic.

Some 74% of Italians have received two Covid shots, and 6% just one, whilst 35% have been administered a third booster jab.

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