France to turn Covid health pass into a vaccine pass by mid-January

·4-min read

The French government is looking to transform its Covid health pass into a vaccine pass, to push more people to get vaccinated in the face of a surge in infections caused by the Omicron variant. Many are against the proposal, especially provisions which would make passes mandatory for employees going to work.

If the government has its way, by mid-January access to most public spaces in France, including bars, restaurants and cultural institutions, will be limited to those who can show proof of being fully vaccinated against Covid-19.

On Monday, 27 December, President Emmanuel Macron will lead a special cabinet meeting to introduce legislation that would transform France’s current health pass into a vaccine pass, a move which will make vaccination all but mandatory for those wanting to participate in leisure activities in France.

Parliament will receive the legislation Wednesday and question Health Mistier Olivier Véran; the National Assembly will debate the bill during the first week of January, with a vote planned mid-January.

Pressure on the non-vaccinated

The vaccine pass is meant to “put the pressure on the non-vaccinated,” said Prime Minister Jean Castex last week about the decision to push forward with the measure, despite disagreement even within his own party.

“Our hospitals’ intensive care services are full, for the most part, with non-vaccinated people,” he added.

Over 91 per cent of those over the age of 12 are vaccinated in France, leaving nine percent, or six million people, unvaccinated, and 2.7 million eligible for the third booster who have not yet received it.

The vaccine pass will mean only those who have been fully vaccinated, including a booster shot for those eligible, will have access to locations that previously could be accessed with a negative test.

It is likely the legislation will continue to allow the health pass, including a negative test, for access to health and social services.

The legislation will also likely associate identification with the passes, to fight against fraud.

Other European countries have already introduced a vaccine pass. They include Greece and the Czech Republic, which requires a valid pass for entry to some businesses, as well as restaurants and cultural locations.

Italy has turned its health pass into a vaccine pass during the holiday season (from 6 December to 15 January), requiring vaccination proof for access to restaurants and cultural locations,

But in France, which has seen regular protests against the health pass since it was introduced in July, lawmakers are treading carefully, eyeing elections in the spring.

Debates over details

Many details of the legislation remain unclear and questions about the application of the vaccine pass will be debated by lawmakers, many of whom have already said they would vote against the bill.

There are many questions about where the pass will be required. Will it apply to public transportation? And what about the workplace?

The government has backed off from introducing a health pass requirement for all employees.

Currently, only those who have contact with the public – restaurant workers or those in cultural institutions – must have a valid health pass.

Citing a lack of consensus within the government, spokesperson Gabriel Attal said the decision would be delayed.

Employee and employer unions are up in arms against this possibility, raising questions about who will enforce the passes and about medical confidentiality at work.

Extending the requirement to all employees could be introduced as an amendment in the current bill, or applied by decree at a later date.

Looking next door

France could look to its neighbours, Italy and Germany, who have introduced mandatory health passes for all employees.

The decision in Italy was made “to make these locations more secure and strengthen our vaccination campaign even more,” said the Italian Health Minister Roberto Speranza in October, when the measure was introduced.

Employees who do not have a valid pass are suspended with no pay and face fines, but they cannot be fired. Employers who do not check passes face fines as well.

In Germany, where more than 30 percent of people are not vaccinated, health passes have been required for access to workplaces since the end of November.

Some employees can be fired, and employers face fines of up to 25,000 euros for not checking.

Italy, where over 80 percent of those over the age of 12 are fully vaccinated, has not yet seen a surge in the numbers requesting vaccination since implementing the pass.

The country has, however, seen an increase in the number of people taking sick days.

While most Italians support the measure, the legislation did provoke some protests across the country.

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