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France’s new health pass rules raise questions as many scramble to adapt

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While the extension of France’s health pass and other new anti-Covid 19 measures announced by President Emmanuel Macron Monday night are yet to be hammered out in detail, what’s certain is that a full-throttled return to a normal life of frequenting café terraces, restaurants, cinemas, theatres and other culture and leisure activities will now hinge on having a pass sanitaire (or health pass).

From the moment Macron announced new anti-Covid measures Monday evening that include an extension to the health pass requiring holders be either fully vaccinated or have proof of a recent (taken within 48 hours) negative Covid-19 test, the French have been gripped by panic. Thousands rushed to online medical appointment sites, like Doctolib, which had a record 926,000 people book their first dose within hours of Macron’s address – a record for the site. Hundreds of thousands more continued to book jabs on Tuesday, a vast number of whom are health professionals now subject to mandatory vaccination under the new rules. Simply put, the changes mean that anyone in France – except for those aged 12-17 years – who wants to visit or, indeed works in, a café, restaurant, cinema, theatre, bar or other places of leisure and culture will need to have a health pass.

FRANCE 24 takes a closer look at the changes to the government’s health pass rules.

12-17 year olds exempt from health pass until August 30

Everyone will have to have a health pass if they want to access most leisure and culture spaces from July 21, except those aged 12 to 17 who will have until August 30 to meet the requirement. That means they will need to get “vaccinated quickly”, said health minister Olivier Véran on Tuesday, who added they will have to also continue to wear a mask where necessary.

“We have identified a solution for teenagers aged 12 to 17, so as not to spoil families’ holidays. For them, the health pass will apply in all places where it applies, from August 30,” the minister said on France 2.

Voluntary vaccination has been available to teenagers since June 15, provided they have the consent of both parents and are accompanied by one of them when they receive their shot.

Health pass valid one week after second dose 

Under the new health pass rules, a person is fully vaccinated one week after they receive their second dose and no longer than two weeks, the health minister said. However, under EU regulations they would need to be vaccinated at least 14 days before travelling outside of France to other EU states.  

Health pass for long-distance travel but not for local commutes

A health pass will be required for all long-distance travel, for both passengers and employees, and will be subject to on-board checks. However, it will not be necessary for local commutes such as on buses and metros, said Minister for Transport Jean-Baptiste Djebbari on BFMTV.

“It will essentially concern the TGV and intercity trains, coaches making interregional journeys, and domestic travel by plane”, said Djebbari, as journeys by plane to foreign countries are already subject to the health pass.

For the transport sector, the health pass changes will present some challenges particularly in stations during the peak summer season, as transport providers will have to carry out checks at the check-in counter, which will likely lead to lengthy queues.

The SNCF, or national rail service, said on Tuesday that it was working with the government to set up procedures to ensure the new system runs smoothly and promised to keep commuters and travellers informed in the coming days.

Flexibility for restaurant and café staff

The government offered assurances that it would show some leeway in the way the new health pass measures are applied to staff at restaurants and cafés who may not yet have been fully vaccinated.

As in the case of 12 to 17 year-olds, these workers would not be immediately subject to the health pass changes. However, they “will have to have received their first vaccine dose by August 1 at the latest, otherwise from August 30 onwards they will have to be tested every two days if they want to continue working”, Véran told France 2 on Tuesday.

‘Four issues’ of concern for retailers

Retail industry leaders met with key ministers on Tuesday to raise “four issues” of concern and to dispel some of the confusion over which shopping centres would be impacted.

“Is it over 10,000 square metres, 20,000 or over 40,000?” the minister for SMEs Alain Griset, said on France Info.

Another question concerns “where controls are carried out. Is it at the entrance to the shops or at the entrance to the shopping centre?” asked Jacques Creyssel, general delegate of the Federation of Commerce and Distribution (FCD) in an interview with AFP.  “The question is tricky because shopping centres often house food shops and pharmacies. It would be complicated to tell people who don’t have a health pass that they can’t eat, or go and get tested or vaccinated…”

“The third issue is the vaccination of our employees, namely that many of them are young, and are not vaccinated,” he said, adding that they would ask for a postponement of mandatory vaccinations for these workers until September 15.

Finally, Creyssel said, there are unanswered questions vis-a-vis monitoring and surveillance: “How will this be carried out? And by whom?” He said he had told the ministers that this may require the assistance of police.

The representatives told AFP they hoped a new round of consultations in the coming days would help iron out the details.

Testing at amusement parks

Popular amusement parks such as Puy du Fou and Parc Asterix were scrambling to try to meet the government’s new health pass requirements on Tuesday and crucially in time for the holiday peak season.

“We share the goal of putting a definitive end to this pandemic. From July 21, a health pass will be required, except for those under 12, and there will be some flexibility up to the age of 18. We are going to do everything we can to ensure the safety of our visitors, including the offer of on-site testing at our main sites,” Dominique Thillaud, managing director of the Compagnie des Alpes, owner of the Asterix park, Walibi parks and the Grevin museum, told AFP.

During the peak summer season Parc Asterix welcomes some 140,000 visitors per week. Thillaud conceded “it’s a big challenge” to get testing up and ready, “especially as two-thirds of our visitors are under 35 years old, and they were among the last to be eligible for vaccination”.

“The agility of our operations is being tested because the deadlines are extremely short,” he said.

No health pass at places of worship

While compulsory for all places of “leisure and culture” that bring together more than 50 people as of July 21, then in restaurants and long-distance transport from August, the health pass will not apply to places of worship.

Worshipers will therefore not have to present a health pass – which attests to either a negative Covid-19 test or a full vaccination – to go and pray.

Since the start of the pandemic, the government’s Council of State has consistently underscored the importance of freedom of worship, which is protected under France’s constitution.

In November 2020, France’s highest administrative court overturned the 30-person maximum capacity for religious ceremonies, a restriction initially imposed by the government. In their decision, the judges considered that the activities carried out in places of worship “are not of the same nature” as those in cinemas or theatres and that “the fundamental freedoms at stake are not the same”.

Prior to that, the Council of State had ordered, in May 2020, the lifting of the “general and absolute” ban on gatherings in places of worship, which the government wanted to impose as part of a series of restrictions after the first wave.

This article is an adaptation of the original in French.


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