France will tighten travel rules for unvaccinated Britons as President Emmanuel Macron encourages millions more French people to get the jab amid a surge in Covid-19 cases fuelled by the delta variant.
In a televised speech on Monday evening, Mr Macron raised the possibility of making the vaccine mandatory for all citizens and announced that jabs would be compulsory from September for health workers.
"Everywhere, we will have the same approach: recognising civic engagement and putting the restrictions on the unvaccinated rather than on all," Mr Macron said with the Eiffel Tower in the background.
"Depending on how the situation develops, we will no doubt have to ask ourselves the question of compulsory vaccination for all French people," he added.
Mr Macron also announced enhanced border checks to avoid importing new cases from at-risk countries, including Britain.
French President Emmanuel Macron gives televised address to the nation
Credit: REUTERS/Gonzalo Fuentes/File Photo
In practice, this means unvaccinated travellers from the UK, which is currently on France’s orange list, will have to provide a negative Covid test taken less than 24 hours before traveling, Europe minister Clement Beaune said.
They will still need to have an "urgent reason" to travel. Currently, the test can be taken within 72 hours of travel.
Mr Macron’s speech sparked a record drive to book jabs online, with nearly 1.3 million French people getting an appointment in the hours after the announcement.
French health booking platform Doctolib said 926,000 people booked both of their vaccine appointments on Monday evening around Macron’s address, followed by 350,000 more by Tuesday morning.
At the height of the rush, 20,000 people were booking appointments every minute, causing the site to show record waiting times.
It comes just days after the French transport minister said France could soon ease rules for vaccinated British travellers entering the country.
"With the vaccination campaign advancing well in both France and UK there could be a co-ordinated decision soon to lift the UK from the orange list," Jean-Baptiste Djebbari told the BBC during a visit to Toulouse, south-western France, on Thursday.
Over 50 per cent of French people have received at least one jab, but the vaccination campaign has slumped with summer holidays approaching and high anti-vaccine sentiment.
Daily new infections remain low in France, with around 4,000 new cases a day, but they are rising quickly. "The virus doubles every five days," according to health minister Olivier Veran.
Coronavirus France Spotlight Chart – Cases default
Mr Macron also said ‘health passes’ would be required for anyone who wants to go to a restaurant, shopping mall or hospital or get on a train or plane.
To get a pass, people must have proof they’re fully vaccinated, or recently recovered from the virus, or have taken a fresh negative virus test.
PCR tests will no longer be fully reimbursed by the national health insurance by the fall in a bid to push more people to get vaccinated instead of getting tested every week.
The move sparked a debate over compulsory vaccination in neighbouring Germany, where Chancellor Angela Merkel refused to follow Mr Macron’s lead.
In a press conference held after visiting the Robert Koch Institute in Berlin, Mrs Merkel said that while vaccinations were essential in fighting the pandemic, they would not be made mandatory.
"We do not intend to go the way that France suggested. We said there will be no compulsory vaccination".
German officials said coronavirus measures should be maintained until more of the population has been vaccinated, even as Britain is set to reopen fully next week.
One politician called England’s plan to lift most restrictions despite the spread of the Delta variant "a highly risky experiment."
Mrs Merkel however urged those reluctant to get jabbed to protect themselves, their loved ones and everyone else.
"And that’s why I tell everyone who is still unsure whether they should be vaccinated: A vaccination not only protects you, but also someone you are close to, who is important to you, who you love," Mrs Merkel said.
"The more we are vaccinated, the freer we will be again, the freer we can live again."