Fresh protests in France against Covid health pass
Protesters took to the streets across France on Saturday for the fourth weekend in a row to oppose a new coronavirus health pass needed to enter a cafe or travel on an intercity train, two days before the rules come into force.
The new rules championed by the president, Emmanuel Macron, make it obligatory to either be fully vaccinated against Covid-19, be in possession of a negative test or be recently recovered from the virus to enjoy usually routine activities.
Macron, who faces re-election next year, hopes the rules will encourage all French people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 and defeat the virus and its fast-spreading Delta variant.
But opponents, who have turned out en masse in the streets in the past weeks, argue that the rules encroach on civil liberties in a country where individual freedom is prized.
From Monday, the health pass will be needed to eat in a restaurant or drink in a cafe indoors or on a terrace. It will be obligatory on intercity transport including high-speed trains and domestic flights but will not be needed on metro systems and suburban transport.
The pass has already been required since 21 July to visit cultural venues such as cinemas, theatres and museums. Its extension was approved by France’s constitutional council on Thursday.
In one of several protests planned in Paris alone, hundreds marched from the western suburbs to the centre, chanting: “Freedom!” and: “Macron, we don’t want your pass!”.
Wearing a mask, Alexandre Fourez, a 34-year-old marketing employee, said he was protesting for the first time and that he had himself recovered from Covid. “The problem with the health pass is that our hand is being forced,” he said, adding that he “really has difficulty believing its use will be temporary”.
Other protests were planned later in the afternoon across the country, including in Lille in the north and Toulon on the Mediterranean coast.
The interior ministry said more than 200,000 people turned out last weekend and more than 160,000 the weekend before for the protests. Police do not expect the numbers to decrease this weekend.
Although many of the protesters are among those refusing to be vaccinated, some have taken the jabs but object to the principle of the health pass.
The government spokesman, Gabriel Attal, said the pass, which under current rules will be required until 15 November, was needed to avoid further restrictions as the country fights the fourth wave of the Covid-19 epidemic.
“It is an additional constraint but a constraint that will allow places to stay open,” he said, while emphasising that there would be a one-week “grace period” for people and businesses to get used to the new rules.
Macron, who is at his holiday residence in the south of France, has in recent days repeatedly used the social media platform TikTok, popular among young people, to get his message across.
“Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated. Get vaccinated,” Macron said in the latest video on Friday. “It’s a question of being a good citizen … our freedom is worth nothing if we infect our friends, neighbours or grandparents. To be free is to be responsible.”
The vaccine programme has gathered steam in France since the health pass plan was announced, and the government wants 50 million people to have received at least one jab by the end of August. Almost 55% of the population are now fully vaccinated.
About 25,000 new infections were recorded on Friday. Concern remains over overseas territories such as Guadeloupe and Martinique and the Mediterranean coast including Corsica, hit by an influx of holidaymakers.