Gulf Today

France launches vaccine pass for cultural, leisure venues

PM defends the controvers­ial policy, noting that nearly all new infections are in people who have not been immunised, adds ‘we’re in the fourth wave’


French cinemas, museums and sports venues began asking visitors on Wednesday to furnish proof of COVID-19 vaccinatio­n or a negative test as the country, which is in the throes of a fourth wave of infections, rolled out a controvers­ial vaccine passport system.

The so-called “health pass” is required for all events or places with more than 50 people before being extended to restaurant­s, cafes and shopping centres in August.

Prime Minister Jean Castex defended the policy, noting that nearly all new infections are in people who have not been immunised.

The number of new infections over 24 hours shot up to 21,000 on Wednesday, the highest level since early May.

“We’re in the fourth wave,” Castex told TF1 television, adding that the goal of the health pass is to avoid a fourth nationwide lockdown.

Health Minister Olivier Veran lashed out at vaccine refuseniks, who have accused the government of flouting their freedom of choice.

“Freedom is not about dodging taxes, or driving the wrong way up the motorway, or smoking in a restaurant or refusing a vaccine that protects me as much as it protects others,” he told parliament.

The Louvre museum and Eiffel Tower were among the sites that began implementi­ng the vaccine checks on Wednesday.

But whereas most tourists had their vaccine certificat­es at hand, having shown them on arrival in the country, some French people were wrong-footed by the new rules.

In the Paris suburb of Rosny-sous-bois, 28-yearold Marie-ange Rodrigues was surprised to be barred from a cinema screening ater having received her second vaccine shot.

“It’s rubbish!” she said of the requiremen­t to have been fully vaccinated for at least a week.

Nearly 38 million people, representi­ng 56 percent of the French population, have received at least one dose of a vaccine, according to data by the covidtrack­ website. Nearly 46 per cent, have been fully vaccinated. The government aims to have given at least one shot to 50 million people by the end of the summer.

Tens of thousands of vaccine sceptics took to the streets in protest over the new vaccine rules last week, accusing President Emmanuel Macron of running a vaccine “dictatorsh­ip.”

The restrictio­ns have even faced criticism from some lawmakers in Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party, who see it as a threat to civil liberties.

“Protecting public health has been our priority since March 2020, but it has not threatened the cohesion of our country because the rules were the same for everyone,” LREM lawmaker Pacome Rupin said on Tuesday.

“The health pass is going to fracture our country,” he said.

Restaurant owners in particular are up in arms at the requiremen­t to vet their customers’ vaccinatio­n status before serving them.

In a concession on Thursday, Castex said that they would not have to check customers’ ID and that the government would not punish venues during the first week of the new rules.

Ater that, they face fines of up to 1,500 euros ($1,700) for a first-time offence, and more for subsequent violations.

Children aged 12 to 17, who only became eligible for vaccinatio­n in mid-june, will not need the pass in August nor have to show one when heading back to school in September.

The changes introduced on Wednesday were implemente­d by decree, but lawmakers also began debating a bill that will extend the rules next month to restaurant­s, as well as trains or planes for long-distance travel.

From September, vaccinatio­ns will also be mandatory for healthcare and retirement home workers, many of whom remain sceptical of the shots.

Let-wing parties particular­ly have slammed the health pass as an infringeme­nt of personal freedoms and said the government should be trying to convince rather than coerce people to get vaccinated.

Other measures to contain the surge in new cases include the reintroduc­tion of rules requiring masks to be worn outdoors in hotspots such as the western coastal area around Bordeaux, a popular holiday destinatio­n.

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A security agent checks visitors’ health passes in front of the Louvre museum in Paris on Wednesday.
Reuters ↑ A security agent checks visitors’ health passes in front of the Louvre museum in Paris on Wednesday.

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