Pandemic health pass spurs protests in France

Paris, Jul 24 (EFE).- Tens of thousands of people took to the streets of Paris and other French cities on Saturday to protest proposed legislation that would expand the use of a pandemic health pass and require health workers to be vaccinated for Covid-19.

The pass, which attests that the bearer has either been vaccinated, tested negative for coronavirus within the last 48 hours or had and recovered from Covid-19 during the preceding six months, is currently obligatory for museums, cinemas and tourist sites.

The bill now being debated in the Senate would expand the mandate to restaurants, bars and other venues, while also establishing a requirement that health workers get vaccinated.

But the text, passed earlier by the lower house, has already been watered down in the Senate with a pass exemption for hospitals and shopping centers and the removal of sanctions for health workers who decline to be vaccinated.

As deliberations continued in the Senate, more than 160,000 people, according to the interior ministry, participated in protests across the country against the bill, despite polls showing that 76 percent of the French support it.

Demonstrators, most of them unmasked, carried signs with slogans such as “No to vaccine blackmail” and “Freedom.”

The march in Paris was organized by Florian Philippot, founder and leader of the right-wing Patriots party, who accuses President Emmanuel Macron’s centrist government of exaggerating the threat of a Covid-19 resurgence to impose health “apartheid.”

“Where is the promised great wave of Covid?,” Philippot wrote on Twitter. “Instead we see their lies, their will to divide us, to enslave us.”

France registered 25,624 new coronavirus infections on Saturday, the health ministry said, up from 10,949 a week ago. Eighty percent of new cases can be attributed to the more contagious Delta variant of Covid-19.

The government says that if the trend continues, the country will be experiencing 50,000 new infections per day by the start of August.

So far, the sharp jump in cases has not been reflected in an increase in hospitalizations.

The virus has claimed nearly 112,000 lives in France since the start of the pandemic in March 2020.

In an interview Saturday with Le Parisien, Health Minister Olivier Veran said that he would have preferred not to impose a pass mandate, “but we didn’t have an alternative.”

“The certificate is an effective way to avoid a new lockdown and a health catastrophe,” he told the newspaper. EFE mdv/dr

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