France’s top constitutional authority has approved a Covid-19 pass that limits access to cafes, restaurants and inter-city trains and planes to people who have been vaccinated or tested negative for the coronavirus.
The legislation, drawn up as France tackles infections driven by the Delta variant, goes further than most European nations in conditioning daily-life activities on either a vaccine certificate or recent negative Covid-19 test.
France had already required since July 21 a health pass to access museums, cinemas and swimming pools.
The controversial pass, which will become ubiquitous from Monday, drew protesters outside the Council of State in Paris.
“All this undermines fundamental freedoms ... freedom is, first of all, the choice to be vaccinated or not,” said Marie Jose Libeiro, 48. “We are falling into an authoritarian state.”
“It’s depressing. I sensed it was coming but it’s still a blow,” hospital administration worker Nathalie Juyot said at a low-key protest yesterday.
Juyot said she did not want the Covid-19 vaccine but questioned what options she had.
“I can’t afford not to have a salary,” she continued.
However, the Constitutional Court said the restrictions put forward by President Emmanuel Macron and approved by parliament last month represented a “balanced trade-off” between public health concerns and personal freedom.
Prime Minister Jean Castex welcomed the court ruling, saying that it “will allow the full deployment of our battle strategy against Covid-19”.
The biggest change concerns restaurants which will now have to turn away patrons who fail to produce the health pass.
“There will be a cost, in terms of time spent checking the pass, and in terms of sales because we will lose customers,” Herve Becam, vice-president of the UMIH hotels and restaurants association, told AFP.
Cyril Wafik, manager of the Indiana Cafe in central Paris, said the pass presented yet another challenge for many restaurant owners who were already having trouble getting customers to wear masks.
“We’re not police, that’s not our job,” he told AFP.
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.
However, the absence of a health pass must not be an obstacle to patients receiving treatment, the court ruled.
Health workers and others whose job requires them to be in contact with people at risk of Covid-19 must now get vaccinated by law.
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 brought in the Covid-19 pass, which 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.
The health pass will come into force for children aged 12-17 on September 30.
Protests against the health pass assembled around 200,000 people across France on Saturday, and organisers have called for rallies this weekend.
According to a Montaigne poll this week, 37% of French people sympathise with the demonstrations and 48% are against.
Some 60% approve mandatory vaccinations.
Macron has spoken of what he says is the irresponsibility and selfishness of those refusing the vaccine.
“A few tens of thousands of people have lost their minds to such an extent that they say we live in a dictatorship,” Macron told Paris Match in an interview published on Wednesday.
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