France gives initial nod to vaccine pass after Macron furore
Paris (AFP) – France's lower house of parliament on Thursday passed in a first reading a bill further tightening Covid measures, after three days of tense debates fuelled by President Emmanuel Macron's warning that he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated.
The bill would require a full course of vaccination against Covid-19 to enjoy basic parts of life including inter-city train travel, attending cultural events or eating out. A recent test or proof of recovery would no longer be valid.
The legislation was expected to pass relatively smoothly through parliament with support from the right-wing opposition.
But it was initially blocked this week when deputies managed to defeat the government on a procedural vote.
Discussions were suspended again in the early hours of Wednesday after a furore caused by Macron's comments that he would "piss off... until the end" the unvaccinated.
The text was passed just after 5:30 am (0430 GMT) on Thursday by the National Assembly at 214 votes for and 93 against, with 27 abstentions.
It will now go to the Senate, the upper house dominated by the right-wing opposition that is expected to make amendments.
That could put into question the government's target date of January 15 for implementing the new vaccine pass.
Prime Minister Jean Castex told BFM television he "hoped very much" that the January 15 date could still be kept.
'Act like citizens'
French media have speculated whether Macron intended to cause the controversy with coarse language, which was seized on by his rivals in the 2022 presidential election campaign.
Around 53 percent of French were shocked by Macron's comments, while 47 percent were not, according to an Elabe poll published Wednesday.
Castex expressed no regret over Macron's use of language.
"That there has been a storm in certain circles, I don't doubt and I see it myself. But the president can sometimes say things out loud that many, many people quietly think," he said.
Macron also told Le Parisien newspaper: "If your freedom threatens others' freedom, you become irresponsible. And irresponsible people are no longer citizens."
Castex, in his interview, expanded on this by adding: "If we all act like citizens then no one is going to piss off anyone else."
"Everyone should do their little bit," he added.
According to government figures, 91 percent of French adults are fully vaccinated.
Health Minister Olivier Veran also tweeted amid the furore that 66,000 people got their first vaccination jab against Covid-19 on Wednesday, the highest daily rate since October.
Veran also revealed to parliament that some five percent of people in hospital with Covid had faked the health pass that contains the proof of vaccination, and vowed that the new legislation would toughen up measures against offenders.
Macron's remarks came as France set a record for Covid cases over a 24-hour period on Wednesday, with more than 332,000 additional infections recorded.
The controversy has also highlighted an increasingly febrile pre-election atmosphere in France.
Macron said he wants to stand for a second term in April's presidential vote but that declaring his intentions now would distract from managing the health crisis.
Right-wing candidate Valerie Pecresse of the Republicans, seen by many as Macron's most credible challenger, said it's "not up to the president to pick out good and bad French people."
© 2022 AFP