Top court rules France's Covid-19 'health pass' complies with constitution

Workers check the Covid 'health pass' of people who want to enter the Gaumont Multiplex cinema in the French southern city of Montpellier, July 29, 2021.
Workers check the Covid 'health pass' of people who want to enter the Gaumont Multiplex cinema in the French southern city of Montpellier, July 29, 2021. Pascal GUYOT AFP/Archives

France's top constitutional authority on Thursday approved a Covid pass that limits access to cafes, restaurants and inter-city trains and planes to people who have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus.


The controversial pass has sparked mass protests, with critics accusing President Emmanuel Macron of running a health "dictatorship".

But the Constitutional Court said the restrictions voted by parliament last month represented a "balanced trade-off" between public health concerns and personal freedom.

>> France’s Covid-19 ‘health pass’: Where is it mandatory?


Several hundred noisy protesters in front of the Constitutional Council in Paris denounced the ruling, under the eye of nearly as many heavily armed police.

Julien Bailly, 37, who makes harpsichords, wore a “Health dictatorship: Stop” sticker on his shirt.

He said he was fully vaccinated, but “everyone should be able to make that choice freely, not because oppressive laws force them to. Soon we’ll need QR codes for everything in life," he added. "This is a slippery slope and an unprecedented attack on our freedoms.”

Critics complain that it limits their movements outside home — and implicitly renders vaccinations obligatory. Opponents have demonstrated around the country by the tens of thousands for the past three Saturdays, with more protests expected this weekend.

The Constitutional Council that examined the law is a special court which, among other things, reviews the constitutionality of legislation.

The health pass has been in effect since July 21 for cultural and recreational venues, including cinemas, concert halls and theme parks with a capacity for more than 50 people. But the new law vastly extends its application.

The biggest change concerns restaurants which will now have to turn away patrons who fail to produce the health pass. Many restaurant owners say it is not their job to enforce the law, checking each client for a pass.

Visitors to some shopping centres and department stores will also need the pass, as will visitors to hospitals or care homes and people seeking non-urgent medical care.

But the absence of a health pass must not be an obstacle to patients receiving treatment, the court ruled.

Mandatory vaccination for health workers

Health workers and others whose job requires them to be in contact with people at risk of Covid must now get vaccinated by law.

But the court rejected as "disproportionate" the government's wish to force people with Covid infections into isolation for 10 days.

The court's judges also struck down another provision included in the health law that would allow employers to dismiss people on fixed-term or temporary contracts if they don't have a pass.

The court said this was unfair treatment as employees on open-ended contracts could not be sacked for the same reason.

Staff can, however, be suspended from work without pay if they lack a pass if the nature of their job demands it because, for instance, it brings them into contact with the public.

Teenagers urged to get vaccinated

The health pass will come into force for young people between 12 and 17 only on September 30.

Protests against the health pass assembled around 200,000 people across France on Saturday, and organisers have called for more demonstrations this weekend.

According to a Montaigne opinion poll this week, 37 percent of French people sympathise with the demonstrations and 48 percent are against.

Some 60 percent approve of mandatory vaccinations.

More than 8,000 people are currently being treated for Covid-19 in French hospitals, with nearly 1,400 in intensive care, the health authorities reported on Wednesday.

Just under 29,000 new cases were reported in the previous 24 hours.

Some 54 percent of the French population are now fully vaccinated.

(FRANCE 24 with AP, AFP)

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