Parisians on Wednesday appeared deeply divided over President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to oblige them to wield a health pass to enter most museums and cinemas – and soon cafes and restaurants – in a bid to stem rocketing infections.
“As soon as you force the French to do something, we are against [it],” said Patricia Detti, 64, a Parisian pensioner.
A decree that comes into force on Wednesday makes it obligatory for all leisure and cultural venues welcoming more than 50 people, including theatres, sports halls and even Disneyland Paris.
The pass, which can be downloaded to France’s tracing app, displays proof of vaccination, a negative test or recent recovery from Covid.
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The French parliament will then debate this week whether to extend its use in August for entry to cafes, restaurants and shopping malls – likely to be a formality given President Emmanuel Macron’s party has a parliamentary majority.
It came as French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that France was seeing a major surge in the delta variant.
"We are in the fourth wave", Mr Castex told TF1 television on Wednesday.
"The delta variant is the majority one, it is more contagious," he added of the variant first detected in India.
Health Minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday announced 18,000 new infections in just 24 hours, a surge of 150 per cent compared to last week.
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"We have never seen this before," he told the National Assembly.
Ms Detti called the pass "a necessary evil".
“People aren’t being reasonable and not taking the virus serious enough so what else can we do? I wasn’t mad about getting vaccinated but you have to think of society at large.”
Some Parisians see the health pass as a 'necessary evil' to stem a viral surge
Credit: Henry Samuel
However, Mr Macron’s plans have proved controversial. Protests against new coronavirus rules in France saw demonstrators brand the government a “dictatorship” and vandalise two vaccination centres this week.
Some MPs have received death threats ahead of Wednesday’s debate while some protesters sparked outrage last week by comparing likening the unvaccinated to Jews forced to wear yellow stars under war-time Nazi occupation.
While they condemned such acts, Parisian couple who called themselves Gonzague and Sophie, 35 and 32 respectively and both executives, were furious about the pass.
“We find it scandalous. We are not at risk and those we meet are vaccinated so why force us? We haven’t got the right to do anything,” said Sophie.
“In France, we cut off heads during the Revolution to gain freedom and so that the population could decide for itself. Today this freewill is being whittled away via coercive measures by a government whose strategy is unclear,” said Gonzague.
“It has overstepped the mark and it’s natural there are protests.”
Some Parisians see the health pass as eroding privacy and personal freedoms
Credit: Henry Samuel
Almaz Baglio, 53 , a cultural events organiser, said: “I find it abusive to impose the pass on cultural venues, restaurants and cafes almost overnight.”
“It’s clearly a form of intimidation to get the French to vaccinate and those against jabs are in a terrible quandary. It’s becoming totalitarian.
"I hope the pass is temporary. It is inconceivable for me to have to display a pass every time you want to do something. The brutal way it’s being imposed mid-summer is deplorable and it is splitting the population.”
Gabriel Attal, the French government spokesman said this week: "It’s either generalised vaccination or a viral tsunami, there is no alternative."
On Wednesday, French prime minister Mr Castex justified the measure, saying: "What is a health pass? It’s an incitation to get vaccinated but it’s (also) the means to keep open the highest number of places that would have shut if the epidemic surged."
He said the government hoped to vaccinate eight million people in the coming two weeks to reach 40 million people having received at least one dose by the end of the month and 50 million by the end of August.