French parliament edges closer to adopting controversial Covid vaccine pass

·4-min read

French MPs will on Monday begin examining the bill which will see the health pass transformed into a vaccine pass. This comes as the country continues to record record numbers of Covid-19 cases due to the Omicron variant.

Despite opposition objections and threats to MPs, the text is expected to pass and be validated by the Senate later this week.

The proposed bill "responds to the epidemic in an efficient and gradual way," French health minister Olivier Véran said on Sunday, "taking into account science and responsibility."

France has rfecently topped 200,000 new Covid infections daily, pushing the government to reassess its way of handling the crisis.

The government is determined to apply new pressure to the nearly five million French people over 12 who are not yet vaccinated.

Under the new bill, without a vaccine pass, they will no longer be able access to group activities, bars and restaurants, trade fairs and inter-regional public transport.

Earlier booster dose

A negative test will not longer suffice as has been the case until now, except for access to health services.

School students will be allowed to present a negative test for participating in school outings, but the other vaccine pass rules will apply for 12-17 year olds.

In order to be completely vaccinated, Véran announced that as of 15th February, a booster shot could be taken just four months after the second dose, instead of the previous seven months. He also specified that having been infected counted as the equivalent of a dose.

According to the president of the law commission, Yaël Braun-Pivet, the vaccine pass would "avoid having stricter measures imposed" such as lockdowns or curfews in the longer term.

The new pass will not be applied to work, but the government is proposing to toughen up fines for companies who refuse to put adequate remote working rules into place.

The project also includes a clause to extend the health state of emergency until 31st March for the overseas territories of Reunion Island and Martinique.

The law is also expected to come into effect at a later date in all of the overseas territories where vaccination levels against Covid-19 are much lower than on the mainland.

'Illusion'

Among the opposition, the Socialist party said it would vote for the bill "on principal", alongside the ruling party LREM members.

However, the far left France Unbowed party said it would vote against the bill, condemning it as a "brutal" form of "generalised social control", and a step which amounted to "an illusion of protection".

Far right National Rally and the Communist Party were also expected to vote against it.

Braun-Pivet rejected RN leader Marine Le Pen's suggestion that the vaccine pass was a move by president Emmanuel Macron to get more votes ahead of the presidential election in April.

Although the opposition votes won't be enough to derail the government's proposal, the text has created tension, with several LREM members receiving death threats and other attacks in recent weeks.

LREM member Aurore Bergé received a message comparing her to the women who had their heads shaved for having collaborated with Nazis during the second world war.

She told the JDD newspaper that she would file a legal complaint, saying it was unacceptable to receive intimidating messages "which meant MPs no longer feel free to vote according to their conscience."

Heavy Fines

Stricter punishments for the misuse of the vaccine pass are also to be integrated into the law.

The owner of a fake pass will now face a prison sentence of 5 years, and a fine of €75,000.

Sharing one's health pass could now lead to a fine of €1,000 instead of €135 euros currently.

Owners of public venues will now be authorised to check the identities of their clients, a measure which both MPs on the left and right said would be "impossible to manage."

Braun-Pivet compared this measure to the existing one for supermarkets requiring ID for young people to prevent underage alcohol sales.

The bill will taken to the Senate on Wednesday, with a view to coming into effect on 15th January.

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