France limits use of health pass for shopping amid protests

Thousands of people attended marches to oppose President Emmanuel Macron's plan to use health passes to access venues. PHOTO: AFP

PARIS (BLOOMBERG) - France will limit the use in shopping malls of a contested digital "health pass" that provides evidence of Covid status, even as the spread of the coronavirus accelerates again.

In a bid to limit the impact on retailers, the passes will only be required to enter malls with a surface area of more than 20,000 square metres, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said in an interview with Sunday newspaper JDD.

The move comes after thousands of people attended marches on Saturday (July 17) in major cities to oppose President Emmanuel Macron's plan to use health passes to access venues such as restaurants and cafes. The passes include data on Covid-19 test results and vaccination status.

"Business leaders are worried and I want to reassure them: We will show understanding," Mr Le Maire said.

Mr Macron, who faces re-election in April, is stepping up efforts to avoid further lockdowns that could undermine the swift economic rebound seen in recent months.

Last week, he made Covid-19 shots mandatory for healthcare workers, as well as announcing the expanded use of the health pass, which can be displayed as a QR code on a smartphone.

Yet the latest Covid-19 figures could pressure the government further. The reproductive rate of the virus, known as the R rate, has risen sharply this month to almost 1.5 from around 0.5 in June, and the daily count of cases has now risen past 10,000 per day.

"The dynamic of the epidemic is clearly stronger than in the previous waves even if we are starting from a lower point," Health Minister Olivier Veran told JDD.

"We are obliged to consider measures to put on the brakes or encourage better respect of social distancing."

Yellow vests surface

Some of Saturday's protests were attended by the Yellow Vests, according to Le Figaro.

The movement, which started as a grassroots effort in 2018 and grew into nationwide riots that hurt businesses and the economy, was a major issue for Mr Macron before the Covid-19 crisis.

A clear majority - about 62 per cent - of French people approve of the health passes, Le Parisien reported on Saturday, citing an Ipsos/Sopra Steria poll.

Still, protests against the vaccine push are creating problems. A vaccination centre in the Isere department of eastern France was vandalised on Friday night, Le Figaro reported.

Almost 114,000 people joined Saturday's protests, according to Interior Ministry figures cited by Agence France-Presse.

"The radicalisation of some of our compatriots is a political reality. It is fed by anger, lies, and disinformation," Mr Le Maire said in the JDD interview. "We can only respond with reason and courageous decisions."

Mr Macron's tougher stance has had some success in pushing up vaccination rates. Three million people made appointments last week to get their jabs, according to Le Parisien and the government reported a record 879,597 shots administered on Friday, Dr Veran tweeted.

Some popular summer destinations are already taking further measures to contain the Delta variant.

Authorities in the Pyrenees Orientales, in southern France, imposed a temporary curfew from 11pm to 6am, impacting bars, restaurants, beaches and some other non-essential services, Le Figaro and other media reported.

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