French President Emmanuel Macron cranked up the pressure on everyone to get vaccinated against the coronavirus (COVID-19). Macron introduced new measures Monday night, July 12, making vaccination compulsory for all healthcare workers by Sept. 15. He also held out the possibility of extending the requirement to others.
Only 42 percent of hospital workers and 49 percent of those working in the care system are completely vaccinated in France.
“The more we vaccinate, the less space we will leave for the virus to spread,” said Macron. “It is a new speed race that is underway. We must move towards the vaccination of all French people.”
Around 41 percent of the French population has been fully vaccinated, but the pace of doses being delivered has waned as summer vacations approached.
According to Doctolib, an app that centralizes France’s vaccine appointments, 1.3 million people signed up for injections after Macron gave the televised address to the nation.
It was a daily record since France rolled out coronavirus vaccines in December. People under age 35 made up most of the new appointments.
Special COVID-19 passes will also be required starting August 1 to enter restaurants and shopping malls and to get on trains and planes in France.
“From the beginning of August, the health pass will apply to cafes, restaurants, hospitals, retirement homes, and long-distance transport: planes, trains and coaches for long journeys,” said Macron. “From this week, border controls will be further reinforced for nationals from countries at risk, with forced isolation for unvaccinated travelers.”
New measures not welcomed by many
Restaurant and bar unions demanded a delay for the passes, and government officials were meeting with industry representatives Tuesday, July 13. Restaurant workers fear that enforcing the requirement could scare customers away.
Use of the health pass will be extended to places of leisure and culture starting July 21. All residents of France over 12 years old need to get vaccinated or at least have a negative test to access a show, an amusement park, a concert or a festival.
France’s health passport is available on an anti-COVID app, and can show that a person is either fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from COVID or has tested negative in the past 72 hours.
“It is a new speed race that is underway. We must move towards the vaccination of all French people,” said Macron.
Some bristled at the idea of mandatory vaccines or needing passes to go to cafes.
“There are many health workers who don’t want to get vaccinated because we don’t know much about the vaccines,” said Solene Manable, a nurse in Paris.
Marius Chavenon, a 22-year-old law student, said: “I’m getting vaccinated because I want to have a social life and go on holidays. [But] I don’t think vaccination should be compulsory. We live in France. We should be able to do what we want.”
Macron’s announcement came just three days after France opened up the doors of its nightclubs for the first time in 16 months. Partygoers were exhilarated at rediscovering the dance scene and people crowded into clubs to enjoy the atmosphere for the first time since the start of the pandemic in March last year.
French restaurants and bars also began thriving again as the Tour de France drew in tightly packed crowds across the country.
The country was taking a step towards returning to a pre-pandemic normal just in time for summer, but the Delta variant has been driving infection rates up across Europe.
France’s COVID-19 infections started rising again two weeks ago. On Monday, 4,256 new cases were recorded – up from 2,549 last week.
New infections threaten Macron’s economic recovery plan
New infections are threatening France’s all-important tourism industry and Macron’s ambitious economic recovery plan ahead of the presidential election in April next year. Macron hosted a top-level COVID security meeting on Monday morning before his evening address.
The number of people in French hospitals and intensive care units has been declining for weeks, but doctors predict it will rise when the increase in Delta variant infections hits vulnerable populations.
Italy has also made COVID-19 vaccine compulsory for healthcare workers and pharmacists. Those who opt out risk suspension or a salary cut. In Denmark, restaurants and public events require a digital pass showing that you been fully vaccinated or have a recent negative test. Some German states require the same for restaurants.
But the measures announced by Macron were by far the most extensive among European countries.
Concern has grown in the French government after demand for vaccines has ebbed in recent weeks due to hesitancy, a sense that the virus is no longer a threat and because some people decided to put off their vaccination schedule until after the summer holidays.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran defended the new measures and welcomed the renewed vaccine interest. “That’s thousands of lives saved,” he said.
More than 111,000 people with the virus have died in France.
Meanwhile, France’s Secretary of State for European Affairs Clement Beaune advised people to “avoid Spain and Portugal as destinations” for their summer holidays due to risks tied to the highly contagious Delta variant.
Beaune told France 2 TV: “To those who have not yet booked their holidays, I say avoid Spain and Portugal as destinations. It is a prudent advice, a recommendation.”