French Covid-19 'vaccine pass' in force for leisure and travel

People attend a demonstration to protest against France's new Covid-19 vaccine pass, in Paris, Jan 22, 2022. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - New rules came into force in France on Monday (Jan 24) requiring people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter bars, restaurants, trains and planes, after a fierce fight over details of the law in parliament.

A negative coronavirus test will no longer be enough to access leisure activities, some work events and long-distance travel.

The pass would "protect all those who host the public, because it prevents infections and allows them to stay open," Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told Franceinfo radio.

"Individual responsibility is the best protection against the virus," he added.

France is currently recording the highest daily infection rates of any major European country, with an average of 360,000 over the past week.

But outrage at President Emmanuel Macron's declaration early this month that he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated with restrictions until they accepted a shot slowed the vaccine pass law's passage through parliament.

The government had originally wanted to apply it from Jan 15.

Around 40,000 people turned out for anti-pass demonstrations this weekend according to interior ministry figures, down roughly 25 per cent from the previous week.

"The more coercion is applied to my body, my freedom, the more my decision (not to be vaccinated) will be strengthened," an education worker who gave her name as Laurence told AFP at one march.

Opponents from left and right had criticised the bill as a new assault on civil liberties, especially a provision allowing bar or restaurant staff to check customers' identity documents to make sure they match the pass.

"We're used to quickly checking people's passes as they come in, the staff has got the knack and there's never been any problems," said Mr Alain Deriot, manager of the Jour de Peche restaurant in northeastern city Lille.

"But I don't see myself doing identity checks, it's intrusive... we prefer to trust our customers," he added.

How France emerges from the current wave sparked by the Omicron variant is seen as crucial in April presidential elections, where Mr Macron is widely expected to stand although he has yet to declare his candidacy.

Despite the high levels of cases, Prime Minister Jean Castex last week announced a timetable for lifting Covid-19 restrictions in France from Feb 2.

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