France — Summer in France is all about eating out with friends, sipping wine and people-watching from sidewalk cafes — but from Monday, only those who have been vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID-19 test will be able to do that.
France’s highest court on Thursday upheld a new law that makes it mandatory to show a “COVID pass” at cafes, bars and restaurants as the country battles a fourth wave of coronavirus infections.
The new law also rules that health workers must get vaccinated by mid-September, or face suspension without pay.
A bump in the vaccination rate
The COVID pass, which contains either a vaccination certificate or proof of a recent negative PCR or antigen test, is already required for leisure activities where 50 or more people might gather, such as concerts, museums and cinemas.
Anger at that new law brought an estimated 204,000 protesters out onto the streets across France last Saturday.
But the realization that the pass is now needed for any kind of social life also prompted a huge surge in the number of people seeking out vaccines. On the same day as last weekend’s protest, more than twice as many people lined up to get vaccinated.
Since President Emmanuel Macron announced the new laws last month, an average of 427,000 people have been administered a vaccine dose each day. An estimated 53% of the population of France is now fully vaccinated.
Choice versus law
But it was the fact that health obligations became law that prompted some of the protesters to take to the streets, including a mother and daughter team of health workers who told reporters they don’t feel confident about the mRNA vaccines and don’t like being forced to do something they believe should be a personal choice.
Others admitted they were vaccinated, but objected to being told they had to prove it every time they wanted to get a cup of coffee.
The demonstrations attracted a diverse range of people, many with nothing else in common but their stance against the pass. There were anti-vaxxers, those who objected to what they called controlling measures, and young people who felt they were being singled out by the new rules.
What they all do have in common, made clear by the banners and chants, is that they are against President Macron’s policies and politics on a wider level.
Vaccines in France are now available to anyone over 12, however, there is still concern over low takeup by 18-30 year-olds. This is in part because they were among the last to qualify for doses, but also because the earlier message that young people were less likely to catch the coronavirus or be seriously sick has left its mark, even with the arrival of the more virulent Delta variant.
Health officials say there are currently six cases per every 1,000 people in the 20-29 age group, which is three times the national average for new infections.