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Mandatory Vaccine Pass Sparks Dissent in French Capital

By Artemis Sianni-Wedderburn, BA (Hons) Politics and Arabic

Thousands of police officers mobilised in Paris on Saturday, 12 February following the ‘vaccine pass’ coming into effect on 25 January 2022. This was after approval by Parliament and being judged as constitutional by the ‘Conseil Constituionnel.’ 

The vaccine pass replaces the ‘health pass,’ and requires one of three pieces of evidence to show that the holder is fully vaccinated. These include the full course of the vaccine (including a booster dose), a recovery certificate that is more than 11 days old, or a certification of contraindication to vaccination. Failure to check vaccine passes means that venues can be fined up to 1000 euros.

The pass does not apply to 12-15 year olds who may still use a ‘health pass’ or present proof of a negative covid test as opposed to being fully vaccinated. Negative tests must be pharmacy approved, and are priced at 25 euros. Under 12s do not have to show any kind of pass.

According to government advice, the pass is designed to alleviate pressure on hospitals in an attempt to curb the spread of Covid-19. Neither a vaccine nor health pass is required for emergency medical treatment. 

‘The vaccine pass is a disguised form of compulsory vaccination’ French health minister Olivier Véran told BFM TV in February, adding that ‘when we have emptied intensive care units or at least (…) when there is no further cancellation of procedures and if no new variant is in circulation, then the utility of the vaccine pass will be debatable.’ 

In order for the pass to no longer be mandatory, the number of covid patients in intensive care needs to come down to roughly 1,000″

In order for the pass to no longer be mandatory, the number of covid patients in intensive care needs to come down to roughly 1,000. France has more than 3,500 patients in intensive care as of February, 2022. 

There has been a mixed reaction to the pass, with more than 105,000 people taking part in protests across the country. Parisian resident Maeve, who preferred to use her first name only, told the SOAS Spirit that the pass makes people who do not have it ‘alike to second class citizens, which they are not – they are unvaccinated.’ 

The demonstration on 12 February was one of the largest so far, with teargas being used to disperse the protestors alongside the stopping of around 500 vehicles at three entry points to Paris. 

The protest took inspiration from Canada’s ‘Convoi de la Liberté,’ translating to ‘Freedom Convoy,’ and resulted in the arrest of 97 people who attempted to block traffic in the French capital. 

‘If they block traffic or try to block the capital, we must be very firm about this,’ the French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, told France 2 on Friday 11 February, one day before the event. 

‘The right to demonstrate and to have an opinion are a constitutionally guaranteed right in our republic and in our democracy. The right to block others or to prevent coming and going is not,’ Castex said. For three days, 7,200 police officers were deployed all over Paris. 

At the protest banners were flown reading: ‘it is not the virus they want to control, it is you,’ with the main cry heard being ‘liberté’ translating to ‘freedom.’ 

The police ‘were quick to use aggressive tactics despite a notable lack of aggression from protestors,’ said Maeve, recalling the use of teargas. ‘There were rumours that people were fined for waving the French flag because it was inciting protest,’ she added. 

French president Emmanuel Macron addressed the protestors’ frustration with the pandemic, saying that ‘this fatigue also leads to anger. I understand it and I respect it. But I call for the utmost calm,’ in a statement made to Ouest-France newspaper. 

These events are unfolding two months before the first round of the French presidential election, which is set to take place from 10 to 24 April. 

From 28 February, masks will no longer be mandatory in public places where the vaccine pass applies, such as bars, restaurants and tourist sites. Additionally, primary school children will not be obliged to wear a mask in playgrounds, and will be allowed to interact with classmates after the school holidays in February. 

Although no date has been set for the removal of the pass, it ‘could be reduced and kept in places that are very high risk, such as nightclubs, where it would be until late March, early April,’ Véran told Franceinfo. 

Photo Caption: A protester holds a ‘liberté’ (freedom) sign at the ‘anti vaccine pass’ protest on 12 February, 2022 (Credit: Reuters).

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