French lawmakers seek deal on vaccine passports after protests

Protesters attend a demonstration against France's restrictions to fight the Covid-19 outbreak, at the Trocadero Square in Paris, France, July 24, 2021. PHOTO: REUTERS

PARIS (AFP) - Lawmakers from France's Upper and Lower Houses of Parliament were on Sunday (July 25) seeking to agree on a deal to allow the adoption of legislation making vaccine passports vital for French daily life in the battle against Covid-19.

The talks between members of the National Assembly and Senate come a day after France was again shaken by nationwide protests against the rules that saw more than 160,000 people taking part in protests and dozens arrested.

President Emmanuel Macron last week ordered that the health pass - proof of a double vaccination or a negative test - would be required for the French to visit venues such as a cinema or nightclub and ultimately bars and restaurants.

The announcement was a move by Mr Macron to make vaccinations the No. 1 weapon against Covid-19 as new variants emerge, essentially requiring people to become vaccinated if they want to continue daily routines.

But it has encountered fierce opposition from some who believe that the vaccine passports erode civil liberties, while the ruling party has faced a tough task pushing the legislation through Parliament.

While pro-Macron Members of Parliament control the Lower House National Assembly, the Upper House Senate is dominated by the opposition right.

The Senate approved the legislation overnight by 199 votes to 123 but added numerous amendments that the government fears risk limiting the impact of the rules.

The two sides were to hold talks on Sunday afternoon at a parliamentary commission to find a compromise, with the government hoping an agreement can be found for its definitive adoption later on Sunday.

In an extra step requested by Prime Minister Jean Castex, the legislation then needs to be approved by France's highest administrative authority, the Constitutional Council, before becoming law.

Some 161,000 people, including 11,000 in Paris, had protested on Saturday against the health pass, with demonstrators brandishing slogans including "freedom is being trampled on".

A total of 71 people were arrested, including 24 in Paris, and 29 members of the security forces were injured, said the Ministry of the Interior.

On a visit to the France's Pacific territory of French Polynesia, Mr Macron scoffed at how slogans of freedom were being brandished at the protests.

"Everyone is free to express themselves calmly with respect for the other," he said. "But freedom where I owe nothing to someone else does not exist."

He said that under such logic, relatives could be infected by someone who is not vaccinated "when there is the chance to have something that protects", or the person could themselves end up in hospital.

"I don't call this freedom, I call this irresponsibility and egoism," he said.

By maximising the number of vaccinations, the government wants to minimise the impact of the virus' fourth wave. Some 40 million people should have received at least one jab by Monday.

As well as making vaccinations obligatory for health workers and carers, the legislation would make a health pass compulsory from August for travel in planes and inter-city trains as well as visiting a cafe or restaurant.

After Mr Macron's announcement, the health pass is already compulsory for cinemas, museums and any venue gathering more than 50 people.

The Senate wants the legislation to take more note of civil liberties by exempting shopping centres, cafe terraces as well as minors from the rules.

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