ROME – As COVID cases continue to rise in Italy due to the new Omicron variant, the Vatican on Thursday imposed a vaccine mandate, issuing a decree requiring all employees to possess a “Green Pass” proving vaccination against the coronavirus.

This follows a previous decree from the Vatican in September requiring anyone entering Vatican City State to show either proof of full vaccination, a negative COVID test, or proof of recovery from the virus.

According to the Dec. 23 decree signed by Vatican Secretary of State Italian Cardinal Pietro Parolin, regular negative tests are no longer enough, and those who do not possess a vaccination pass or proof of recovery from COVID-19 will be barred from coming to work and will not be paid.

Personnel without a valid Green Pass or proof of recovery “will not be able to access the workplace and must be considered unjustly absent, with the consequent suspension of salary for the duration of the absence,” the decree said.

Employees who become subject to this “unjustified prolongation of absence” from work could face further consequences according to rules spelled out in the general norms of the Roman Curia for anyone who misses work without authorization.

These new rules, which go into force as of Jan. 31, 2022, apply to everyone across the board, from department heads and officials to regular employees, external collaborators, contractors, and anyone who has any sort of contact with the public as part of their job.

Each Vatican office is required to verify compliance with the new measures by appointing someone to be in charge of regular checks to identify any breaches. In major departments, this task has been given to the undersecretaries.

Any exemptions from the rules must be evaluated by either the general affairs section or the diplomatic personnel section of the Vatican’s Secretariat of State, after consulting with the Holy See’s health office.

Further restrictions may be applied by competent health authorities on people who arrive to Rome from countries with a high level of contagion.

When Vatican City became the first country to offer COVID-19 vaccines to all of its citizens and employees in January, including Pope Francis and Pope emeritus Benedict XVI, there was no mandate, so several employees opted not to get the jab.

The Green Pass requirement to enter the Vatican Museums remains unchanged, but it is still unclear whether a Green Pass will now be required to attend papal events such as the Wednesday general audiences and the pope’s Christmas liturgies.

The Vatican did not respond to a Crux request for clarification on this point.

Pope Francis’s outdoor public appointments, including his Sunday Angelus addresses and his Christmas Urbi et Orbi blessing, will likely not require the pass since they are outdoors.

On the same day the Vatican issued its new decree, Italy, which has faced increased backlash over its own vaccine mandates, also announced new rules measures to contain COVID-19, including a tightening of Green Pass requirements.

According to the new rules put out by Italy’s Technical Scientific Committee evaluating and drafting COVID protocols, it is now required to wear masks at all times in public, with the FFP2 mask specifically required to enter theaters, cinemas, and sporting events.

The mandatory waiting period before getting the third vaccine dose has also been shortened from five to four months after completing the first vaccine cycle, and as of Feb. 1, 2022, the vaccine Green Pass will only be valid for six months, instead of nine.

Unlike last year, the Italian government did not impose any lockdowns or restrictions on festivities for the Christmas holiday season, and they are not expected to put a limit on the number of people who can gather together for Christmas or New Year.

However, while pubs and restaurants will remain open during the holidays requiring a third vaccine dose or negative swab to enter, there is a ban on outdoor events and parties until Jan. 31.

These new rules from Italy and the Vatican were imposed largely in a bid to contain the new Omicron variant, which is spreading rapidly.

On Thursday, Italy recorded a record number of 44,595 new COVID infections in just 24 hours, which is a sharp increase from the 36,293 reported the day before.

While this is due in part to an increased number of tests being carried out, the positivity rate of these tests rose from 4.6 to 4.9, with 168 new COVID-related deaths being registered Thursday.

Italy’s death toll has largely stayed in the double digits since the rollout of its vaccine campaign, however, if the slow rise in fatalities and high infection rates continue, it is possible that the new year could bring further restrictions and tighter vaccine requirements.

Follow Elise Ann Allen on Twitter: @eliseannallen