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Friday, January 21, 2022

Explained: France’s controversial vaccine pass bill

The bill had angered anti-vaccination activists and some people even came forward saying they had faced aggression including violent threats and vandalism.

Written by Sanskriti Falor | New Delhi |
Updated: January 7, 2022 12:37:54 pm
A man waits to get vaccinated with the Astrazeneca COVID19 vaccine in a vaccination center of Saint-Jean-de-Luz, southwestern France. (AP Photo/Bob Edme)

French MPs on Thursday approved a controversial vaccine pass bill which requires people to be fully vaccinated to be a part of social gatherings, sporting, leisure and cultural activities. The bill was passed by 214 votes against 93 and 27 abstentions. For a bill to pass in the French parliament, it requires at least 157 MPs to vote for it.

What is the bill?

The bill requires people to be fully vaccinated to access “leisure activities, restaurants and drinking establishments, fairs, seminars and trade shows as well as interregional transport” along with cinema halls, theatres, museums and other public places.

France earlier required people to show a health pass to enter public places and access public life, but with this bill it has moved to replace the health pass with a vaccination pass.

The major difference between passe sanitaire (health pass) and vaccination pass is that the health pass either required people to be fully vaccinated or required those over the age of 12 to show a negative Covid test to enter public spaces.

Right now, vaccination is only compulsory for health workers but with this bill, it will be necessary for all in the public sphere.

In October 2021, as a measure to boost vaccination, the French government had stopped providing free Covid tests for unvaccinated people. Although with this new bill, those above 16 would have to be fully vaccinated to access public places.

Exceptions provided by the bill are students between the age group of 12 to 16 going for school outings or extracurricular activities, emergencies and people accompanying and visiting people in social and medico-social services and establishments can show Covid negative certificate or vaccine certificate.

The bill also imposes heavy fines on people manufacturing fake vaccine passes and those not imposing the vaccine pass law efficiently. As reported by AFP, people holding a fake vaccine pass could face as long as five years in jail or a fine of 75,000 euros.

The bill also moves to fine employers whose carelessness to follow the requirements of the new law affects employees. “The maximum amount of the fine is 1,000 euros and can be applied as many times as there are workers affected by the breach. The total amount of the fine cannot exceed 50,000 euros.”

The bill states, “To protect the population without having to resort to generalized restrictive measures, and in a context where vaccination is the tool for lasting control of the virus, the Government intends to strengthen the existing tools for managing the health crisis, by replacing health pass in force a vaccination pass and by further strengthening measures to fight against fraud.”

What is the controversy around the bill?

The bill had angered anti-vaccination activists and some people even came forward saying they had faced aggression including violent threats and vandalism.

Yaël Braun-Pivet, of the ruling party in France – La République en Marche, told the parliament earlier, “We will not yield,” referring to the death threats that many politicians had received.

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As reported by The Guardian, last week the garage of a ruling party lawmaker was set on fire along with graffiti on an adjacent wall by suspected anti-vaccination activists.

La République en Marche’s Barbara Bessot Ballot took to Twitter to talk about the death threats she was receiving. She wrote, “Whatever one thinks, these death threats are unacceptable and will be punished. It is obviously worth repeating: the battle we are waging is the one against the Covid and in no way an attack on freedoms. Democracy is stronger than the sowers of hate.”

Many in the parliament have also opposed the bill including left lawmaker Jean-Luc Mélenchon, who said that the bill would allow IDs to be checked everywhere by not just police but other citizens too, he further added that this would lead to a “totalitarian, authoritarian society”.

What has French President Emmanuel Macron said about unvaccinated people?

Emmanuel Macron, in an interview with Le Parisien newspaper, said that he wanted to “piss off” unvaccinated people. This remark brought huge condemnation from the opposition months before the next presidential election.

“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so, we’re going to continue doing so, until the end. That’s the strategy,” he said on Tuesday. (AP/File)

“The unvaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And so, we’re going to continue doing so, until the end. That’s the strategy,” he said on Tuesday.

“I won’t send (the unvaccinated) to prison, I won’t vaccinate by force. So we need to tell them, from Jan. 15, you won’t be able to go to the restaurant anymore, you won’t be able to down one, won’t be able to have a coffee, go to the theatre, the cinema,” Macron had added.

It has been said that Macron was trying to appease the vaccinated French citizens and play up the majority’s disappointment against the unvaccinated in the country. France has one of the most vaccinated citizens in Europe, the country has vaccinated 90 per cent of its citizens over the age of 12 years.

Macron in the interview had said the only way to reduce this minority of unvaccinated citizens is by “pissing them off”.

As reported by Reuters, he had also called unvaccinated people irresponsible and unworthy of being called citizens.

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