France’s compulsory vaccination policy upsets a nation of skeptics
(CN) – French politics are intensifying as large protests and lawsuits erupt against new rules that essentially make vaccination compulsory to participate in social life in France.
Over the weekend, more than 100,000 people took to the streets to denounce the strict new rules of French President Emmanuel Macron which require proof of vaccination or a negative test to enter cafes, restaurants, churches, trains, shopping centers, cinemas, sports stadiums and many more. public places. Two vaccination centers were also the target of vandals.
Starting Wednesday, some French venues with more than 50 people will start asking people to present digital “health cards” certifying a person’s immunization status. Macron also made the vaccination of all health workers compulsory.
France, cradle of Louis Pasteur and his vaccine advances, is also, ironically, a land where many people express deep reservations about vaccines and, until more recently, where a majority opposed a vaccine against the new coronavirus which is ravaging all corners of the world. .
But, as the rest of Europe has seen, the reluctance to vaccinate has largely disappeared in a French population fed up with confinements, masks and the fear of falling ill and even dying from Covid-19. France has one of the highest death rates in Europe from the pandemic: more than 111,490 deaths have been linked to the virus.
For the most part, the protesters represent the fringes of French society, and reports and polls suggest that the vast majority of French people support Macron’s compulsory vaccination policy as an effective measure to prevent the country from plunging into new lockdown. Infections are on the increase in France, particularly in tourist towns in the south of France. Masks are becoming mandatory again even outdoors in many tourist towns.
Nonetheless, Macron’s rules are controversial and could end up being overturned by the courts. Lawsuits challenging their constitutionality are filed by a hotel industry worried about losing customers and by opposition politicians.
Macron’s Health Minister Olivier Veran presented the proposed rules to France’s lower house, the National Assembly, on Tuesday. Macron’s neoliberal party, the Republic on the Move, has a majority and the legislation is expected to be passed by the end of the week.
Yet Macron’s draconian approach to vaccines could end up hurting him as he begins his campaign for re-election next April.
Far left and far right factions – there’s Jean-Luc Melenchon’s France Unbowed on the far left and Marine Le Pen’s National Rally on the other side – attack Macron for enforcing laissez-faire. pass health.
“We are not in a dictatorship but there is a form of authoritarianism in the country,” said Alexis Corbière, deputy for France Unbowed and spokesperson for the party, according to the newspaper Le Parisien. “Fundamental freedoms are today called into question.
He said France Unbowed supports vaccination, but Macron’s measures go too far and will end up alienating people who do not want to be vaccinated.
“We have to try to convince and not exclude people who are reluctant to get vaccinated,” he said.
Macron is no stranger to controversies and protests, and his new measures immediately brought people back to the streets.
Last week, protesters, mostly young, were seen attacking government buildings in Paris, and riot police used smoke to smash bomb marches against the so-called ‘anti-bill’ bill. -freedom “.
Macron’s presidency has been marked by public disgust, if not anger, at his sweeping, if not arrogant, attempts to reform French society and the government.
Ahead of the April elections, he remains unpopular and his re-election hopes are uncertain, although he remains the frontrunner, mainly due to political fragmentation and disillusion with French politics, especially with traditional leftist powers. and on the right, namely the Socialist Party and The Republicans.
His unpopularity boiled down in early June when a man slapped Macron in the face when the president spoke to people at a roadblock in the south of France.
As a business leader straddling the liberal-conservative barrier, Macron sought to carve out a place for himself in French history as the president who trained France to kick and scream in the 21st century.
He relaxed labor laws, tried to revamp France’s generous pension system, sought to rewrite the constitution, challenged unions, introduced controversial laws targeting Muslims, and pushed to make France a military and technological powerhouse again.
Macron’s roller coaster presidency hit deeper during the pandemic when it was either seen as not doing enough or doing too little to stop the spread of the virus.
Getting tough with vaccines therefore seems to be his bet to do things right: defeat the virus and regain the confidence of France.
For now, it seems the bet is working: a record number of French people have signed up for vaccinations after Macron announced the introduction of health passes.
On July 12, Macron ordered France to adopt a system whereby people will have to prove that they have been vaccinated, tested negative or recently recovered from Covid-19 in order to be allowed into most public spaces. interiors.
Besides political calculations, there are also pragmatic and urgent reasons for politics: as elsewhere in Europe, France is in the midst of a worrying spike in Covid-19 infections.
On Monday, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said France was at the start of the fourth wave of the pandemic.
Macron did something else too: he positioned himself as a bold leader ready to show the way for the rest of the world.
Since he announced the rules of the health pass, the rest of Europe has been immersed in an intense debate on the legality, effectiveness and practicality of health cards. The European Union has approved an EU-wide digital certificate called the ‘Green Pass’. Digital certificates indicate an individual’s immunization status and are stored on smartphones so they can be easily scanned. Other European countries are introducing similar measures or are considering doing so.
Even the UK – a country where people don’t even need to carry ID cards with them – is considering requiring people to show they are vaccinated before they can enter pubs, nightclubs and restaurants.
Indeed, the UK, the world leader in vaccinating its people, has become a terrifying example of what can happen in other countries unless drastic measures are taken to stop the spread of the virus.
After weeks of easing restrictions, the UK is grappling with an astonishing wave of new infections. Over the past month, the number of new daily infections has risen from around 9,000 to over 45,000, by far the highest in Western Europe. Spain, a tourist destination for many Britons, reports the second highest number in Europe, more than 27,000 new infections every day.
But most of the new cases are in younger people who are not vaccinated and have a lower risk of serious illness. Indeed, deaths and hospitalizations remain under control in Britain, although both are also increasing: in recent days the death toll has increased and more than 40 people are dying every day, a quadruple from there at one month.
Despite his new wave, British Prime Minister Boris Johnson lifted all restrictions in England, declaring “Freedom Day” on Monday.
Courthouse News reporter Cain Burdeau is based in the European Union.
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