France eases Covid-19 health pass rules

Hundreds of thousands of people have protested against President Emmanuel Macron's plans

Demonstrators gather in Paris to protest against the expansion of Covid-19 health pass. AFP

France will ease the rules for a Covid-19 health pass that is set to become compulsory for entry to restaurants and cafes from August 9.

The pass, championed by President Emmanuel Macron, has triggered four weekends of protests against what critics say is a breach of civil liberties.

It is already required for entry to cultural venues such as cinemas and museums and the initiative will be extended from August 9 to include restaurants, shopping centres, hospital visits, domestic flights and intercity trains.

But in a slight easing of the rules, people who test negative for Covid-19 will receive a pass valid for 72 hours, up from a previous limit of 48 hours.

People will also be able to take a test themselves under medical supervision rather than having it done by health workers.

Mr Macron wants people to get vaccinated against Covid-19 rather than relying on negative tests, which will no longer be free of charge from the autumn.

Health workers have until September 15 to have their shots or face suspension.

Mr Macron is staying at his holiday residence on France’s southern coast and has taken to social media in an effort to persuade young people to get vaccinated.

“It’s a question of being a good citizen … our freedom is worth nothing if we infect our friends, neighbours or grandparents,” he said.

Critics of the pass assembled their largest protests yet in a series of demonstrations on Saturday, when about 237,000 people turned out across France.

Hundreds of people marched to the centre of Paris chanting “freedom” and “Macron, we don’t want your pass”.

Most protests were peaceful, but there were seven arrests after projectiles were thrown in the city of Lyon. A tram line was blocked in Dijon.

The protests have attracted a disparate group of anarchists, far-right groups, anti-vaxxers and others who consider the pass to be discriminatory. Mr Macron is up for re-election next year.

The vaccination rate increased in France after Mr Macron announced plans for the pass last month. About 55 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated.

French President Emmanuel Macron wants to persuade reluctant citizens to be vaccinated against Covid-19. AP

France’s top constitutional court has approved the health pass, although it struck down some other measures.

People who have recovered from Covid-19 in the past six months can obtain the pass without being tested or vaccinated.

The pass functions as part of the EU’s Digital Covid Certificate initiative, which means it can be used to travel across European borders.

The French government says its use in domestic life is necessary to rein in a fourth wave of infection caused by the fast-spreading Delta variant.

Daily infections in France have increased to an average of about 22,500 a day compared with fewer than 2,000 in late June.

Vaccine passports have caused divisions across Europe. In Poland, thousands marched against restrictions on unvaccinated people on Saturday.

In Italy, more than 1,000 people gathered in Piazza del Popolo in Rome to protest against a similar initiative.

Italy’s government made a 'green pass' a requirement to enter cinemas, museums and indoor restaurants from August 6.

Schoolteachers and university students will need the pass, which will become compulsory on flights and long-distance trains from September.

Updated: August 8th 2021, 12:56 PM