© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: Florian Philippot, President of the French political party Les Patriotes, and Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, leader of the French political party Debout La France (DLF) take part in a protest against the new measures taken by French President Emmanuel Macron to f. announced
By Emilie Delwarde and Clotaire Achi
PARIS (Reuters) – Hundreds of people protested in Paris on Wednesday against the introduction of a health passport for some activities and mandatory vaccinations for health workers as the government tries to contain a fourth wave of COVID-19 infections in France.
As of Wednesday, visitors to museums, cinemas or swimming pools in France will be refused entry if they cannot present the health passport showing that they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have recently had a negative test.
Some of the protesters waved banners reading “Free choice” and “Hands off my natural immunity!”
“They want to force us to vaccinate at any cost. No, no, no,” said Nathalie Labedade, home worker, to Reuters.
The health pass, which was previously only required for large festivals or clubbing, will also be required from the beginning of August for entry to restaurants and bars as well as for long-distance travel by train and plane.
At the Louvre Museum in Paris, security chief Servane de Landsheer said the first morning of health passport controls went well with most visitors having the document and those who did not consent to a quick COVID test.
“I was really angry … I had no idea,” said Nelly Breton, 51, after she was turned away from the Louvre because not enough time had passed since her vaccination to validate her passport.
“But then I calmed down and understood that there were health reasons,” she said, adding that she would now look to a pharmacy to get a rapid COVID test.
STRONG NEW RULES
With the highly contagious Delta variant now prevailing in France, tougher measures are imperative and new bans cannot be ruled out, Prime Minister Jean Castex told TF1 Television, adding that vaccinations are the only way out of the crisis.
The introduction of the health pass – a QR code on the smartphone or on a piece of paper – is part of a far-reaching bill that Parliament will be voting on this week.
The bill introduces some of the toughest anti-COVID measures in Europe, including mandatory vaccinations for health workers and 10 days of self-isolation for those who test positive.
The government says the bill is necessary due to the sharp increase in infections. Health Minister Olivier Veran said around 21,000 new cases of COVID had been recorded in the past 24 hours, up from around 4,000 new cases per day in early July.
About 96% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday had not been vaccinated, Castex said, adding that he hoped the number of people who received their first vaccination would reach 50 million at one by the end of August Total population going to reach 67 million. On Tuesday there were around 38.1 million.
In particular, the new health pass has proven to be very controversial. More than 100,000 people took part in rallies across France last weekend against a passport that they say violates their freedoms. More protests are expected in the coming days.
Police sources fear the rallies could escalate into large-scale protests by the anti-government “yellow vests” movement, which caused major disruptions for about two years before the COVID lockdowns contained them.
Health passport holders can remove their face masks indoors – in a relaxation of precautionary measures criticized by epidemiologists – unless local authorities or the company itself decide otherwise.
Businesses that don’t verify that their customers have the health passport could end up facing fines of thousands of euros, but the government said there will be a grace period to give everyone time to adjust to the new system.
Regional prefects may take additional measures on a case-by-case basis, such as closing businesses earlier than usual or requiring face masks to be worn outdoors – as has been the case in areas with rising infections in recent days.