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Paris: With the Delta variant driving France’s coronavirus infections back up again, President Emmanuel Macron has mandated special COVID-19 passes for anyone who wants to go to a restaurant, shopping centre, hospital or get on a train or plane.
To get a pass, people must have proof they’re fully vaccinated, recently recovered from the virus or have taken a fresh negative virus test.
He also ordered all French healthcare workers to be vaccinated by September 15 or risk being fined, and said he was aiming for a 100 per cent vaccination rate across the country.
People register for COVID-19 vaccinations at tents outside the Hotel de Ville, the Paris Mayor’s office, on Monday.Credit:Bloomberg
France has just kicked off its summer holiday season after a long-awaited reopening. Almost 40 per cent of the population is already fully inoculated.
“Get vaccinated!” was the President’s overall message to the remaining. He even tweeted a GIF of himself repeating the phrase.
Vaccines are widely available for anyone 12 and over, but interest has ebbed in recent weeks because of vaccine hesitancy, a sense that the virus is no longer a threat, and because some people put off their shots until after their holidays. Demand started rising again over the weekend as people braced for his announcements.
“The country is facing a strong resumption of the epidemic touching all our territory,” he said, in a televised speech.
Warning of a new wave of potential hospitalisations in August, he added: “The equation is simple. The more we vaccinate, the less space we leave [for] this virus to circulate.”
But he stopped short of any new lockdown measures, saying the country had to learn to live with the virus.
Macron said the government would declare a medical state of emergency again starting next Tuesday, which allows authorities more freedom to impose virus restrictions.
Soon after his speech, more than 900,000 people booked a vaccination appointment, Reuters reported. France24 said online health portal Doctolib.fr crashed under the increased demand.
“Get vaccinated!“: French President Emmanuel Macron. Credit:Getty Images
Most European governments have shied away from mandating vaccinations. But after tens of thousands of COVID patients died in French nursing homes, Macron said vaccination was essential for all workers in healthcare facilities and nursing homes, and all workers or volunteers who care for the elderly or ailing at home. Those who don’t get vaccinated by September 15 face potential sanctions or fines.
France24 reported Health Minister Olivier Veran said that non-vaccinated health workers won’t receive a salary nor be allowed to work after that date.
Greece announced Monday that healthcare workers would be suspended if they refused to get vaccinated. Italy made the coronavirus vaccination obligatory for healthcare workers and pharmacists, and those who opt out risk suspension from their jobs or a salary cut.
In Denmark, restaurants and public events require a digital pass showing you’ve been fully vaccinated or have a recent negative test. Some German states require the same for restaurants, though suggestions of making vaccines obligatory have prompted widespread unease.
Meanwhile, French restaurants and bars are thriving again, the Tour de France cycling race is drawing tightly packed crowds across the country, and Hollywood stars are posing arm-in-arm and mask-free on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Cheek kisses are making a comeback.
A man crosses the Champs Elysees avenue in Paris on Monday.Credit:AP
After staying shuttered for nine months since the pandemic began, Paris restaurant owners expressed worry about the challenges of enforcing the new requirements.
“Our job used to be to make sure that our guests had a great time while they were with us. Now, we spend our time reprimanding them. We weren’t trained for this,” said the manager of the Parisian restaurant Bancs Public, Louis le Mahieu. He said he would observe any new health rules, but warned the new measures would likely incur new costs and lower returns.
For Gauthier Max, whose bar Mama Kin was slapped with a nine-day closure for violating COVID-19 measures, restaurants and bars are no longer places of leisure but have become spaces of constraints and restrictions.
“We’ve effectively become policemen,” he said.
Macron also declared Monday that France would start charging money for some virus tests, which up to now have all been free for anyone on French territory.
France’s virus infections started rising again two weeks ago. The number of people in French hospitals and intensive care units has been declining for weeks, but doctors predict it too will rise when the increase in delta variant infections hits vulnerable populations, as it has in Britain and Spain.
Macron also met with car industry figures on Monday as he tried to combine his virus warnings with a message of hope for one of the world’s biggest economies. New infections are threatening France’s all-important tourism industry and Macron’s ambitious economic recovery plan — just nine months before the next presidential election in which he is expected to run.
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