French parliament set to adopt vaccine passports law after protests

Paris (AFP) –


France's parliament was set Sunday to adopt legislation making vaccine passports a key part of daily life in the battle against Covid-19, after a compromise deal between lawmakers from the upper and lower houses.

The breakthrough in talks between members of the National Assembly and Senate came a day after France was again shaken by nationwide protests against the rules that saw over 160,000 rally and dozens arrested.

President Emmanuel Macron last week ordered that the health pass -- proof of full vaccination or a negative test -- would be required for the French to visit venues such as a cinema or nightclub and ultimately bars and restaurants.

The announcement was a move by Macron to make vaccinations the top weapon against Covid-19 as new variants emerge, essentially requiring people to become vaccinated if they want to continue daily routines.

But it has encountered fierce opposition from some who believe the vaccine passports erode civil liberties, while the ruling party has faced a tough task pushing the legislation through parliament.

While pro-Macron MPs control the lower house National Assembly the upper house Senate is dominated by the opposition right.

The Senate approved the legislation overnight by 199 votes to 123 but added numerous amendments that the government fears risk limiting the impact of the rules.

The two sides Sunday afternoon held three hours of talks at a parliamentary commission, finding a compromise that means definitive adoption is now likely later Sunday.

In an extra step requested by Prime Minister Jean Castex, the legislation then needs to be approved by France's highest administrative authority, the Constitutional Council, before becoming law.

- 'Irresponsibility and egoism' -

Some 161,000 people, including 11,000 in Paris had protested on Saturday against the health pass, with demonstrators brandishing slogans including "freedom is being trampled on".

Seventy one people were arrested, including 24 in Paris, and 29 members of the security forces were injured, the ministry of the interior said.

On a visit to France's Pacific territory of French Polynesia, Macron scoffed at how slogans of freedom were being brandished at the protests.

"Everyone is free to express themselves calmly with respect for the other," he said. "But freedom where I owe nothing to someone else does not exist".

He said that under such logic, relatives could be infected by someone who is not vaccinated "when there is the chance to have something that protects", or the person could themselves end up in hospital.

"I don't call this freedom, I call this irresponsibility and egoism," he said.

By maximising the number of vaccinations, the government wants to minimise the impact of the virus' fourth wave. Some 40 million people should have received at least one jab by Monday.

Against a background of rising cases fuelled by the Delta variant, the French Mediterranean department of Alpes-Maritimes that includes the resorts of Cannes and Nice said it was reimposing an obligation to wear facemasks outside and was banning alcohol consumption in public spaces like beaches.

As well as making vaccinations obligatory for healthworkers and carers, the new legislation would make a health pass compulsory from August for travel in planes and inter-city trains and also just to visit a cafe or restaurant.

After Macron's announcement, the health pass is already compulsory for cinemas, museums and any venue gathering more than 50 people.

The Senate wanted the legislation to take more note of civil liberties. Parliamentary sources said the compromise reached means the system will only be allowed to continue after November 15 with a new vote in parliament.

The compromise deal also limits the role of police in enforcing the rules and makes clear that healthworkers and carers who refuse the vaccination should not automatically be sacked but have their salary suspended.

France recorded almost 23,000 new Covid cases on Saturday, twice as many as last week, as the Delta variant causes infections to surge.

But in figures the government credits to the success of the vaccination rollout, there are 878 people in intensive care with Covid, compared with a peak of almost 6,000 at the end of April.