France extends Covid health pass after fourth weekend of protests

Pass sanitaire allows people to visit restaurants, hospitals and take long train trips but backlash continues

An extension to France’s “health pass” covering activities including going to restaurants and cafes, taking long-distance train journeys and visiting hospitals has come into effect after a fourth weekend of protests.

The pass sanitaire, which the government hopes will boost vaccination rates, is shown in the form of a QR code either digitally or on paper and given to those who are fully vaccinated, have a negative Covid-19 test or have had coronavirus and recovered.

It has been required since 21 July for anyone going to the cinema, theatre or a museum and its extension was approved by France’s Constitutional Council on Thursday. The government announced there would be a one-week grace period for customers and businesses to implement the new rules before fines would be introduced for those who do not comply.

Official figures suggested more than 237,000 people demonstrated across France at the weekend against the introduction of the pass, arguing it infringed their civil liberties. This was an increase in the number of protesters from the previous week when 200,000 people took to the streets. Opponents believe the pass sanitaire violates the most fundamental of French principles: the liberté and egalité of the national motto.

Last week, in a TikTok interview, the French president, Emmanuel Macron, urged: “Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated.”

The health minister, Olivier Véran, said the pass would help avoid further curtailing of freedoms including curfews and lockdowns and the rules would be implemented until November, at the earliest. “It’s an incitement to people to get vaccinated, get tested or not to go to places were there are a lot of people,” he told Le Parisien.

Véran said France was well on the way to its target of having at least 50 million people vaccinated with at least one dose by the end of the month, representing 85% of the eligible population.

Asked about the protests, the minister said he regretted the amount of attention paid to those who were “anti-vax, anti-science and anti-state”.

“Whatever the number of protesters, it will still be lower than the number of French who at the very same time are getting vaccinated who represented twice as many on Saturday. I’m prepared to listen to their fears and do everything to reassure them, but there comes a point when enough is enough.”

Several French media outlets reported a growing number of under-30s advertising on social media to meet someone with Covid in order to catch coronavirus and obtain the health pass without being vaccinated or tested.

Le Figaro spoke to a number of them recently who believed as they were young they would not experience the more severe symptoms. “I’d prefer to catch it and be in quarantine so my immune system would know how to overcome the illness naturally,” one said.

Another student who preferred to risk catching Covid told FranceTV: “In the worst scenario I’ll be stuck in bed a few days, in the best I’ll have no symptoms … if I end up in intensive care obviously I’ll regret it, but I honestly don’t think that will happen.”


Kim Willsher in Paris

The GuardianTramp

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