France launches vaccine pass for cultural, leisure venues

PARIS (AFP) – French cinemas, museums and sports venues began asking visitors yesterday to furnish proof of COVID-19 vaccination or a negative test as the country, which is in the throes of a fourth wave of infections, rolled out a controversial vaccine passport system.

The so-called “health pass” is required for all events or places with more than 50 people, before being extended to restaurants, cafes and shopping centres in August.

Prime Minister Jean Castex defended the strategy yesterday, noting that 96 per cent of the 18,000 new daily cases reported yesterday – a surge of 140 per cent in just a week – were people who had not been immunised against the virus.

“We’re in the fourth wave,” he told TF1 television, stressing that the goal of the health pass was to avoid a fourth nationwide lockdown.

The Louvre was among the venues that began implementing the checks, with officials saying that foreign tourists were unperturbed at being asked to show proof of vaccination or a negative test, having already done so when entering the country. Across the Seine river, at the Eiffel Tower, visitors who turned up without proof of vaccination were being offered tests.

Visitors register for COVID-19 tests at the Eiffel Tower in Paris. PHOTO: AP

But some people were wrong-footed by the new rules.

In the Paris suburb of Rosny-sous-Bois, 28-year-old Marie-Ange Rodrigues was surprised to be barred from a cinema screening after having just received her second vaccine shot.

“It’s rubbish!” she said of the requirement to have been fully vaccinated for at least a week.

Tens of thousands of vaccine sceptics took to the streets in protest over the measures last week, accusing President Emmanuel Macron of running a vaccine “dictatorship”.

The restrictions have also faced criticism from lawmakers in Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party, who see it as a threat to civil liberties.

“Protecting public health has been our priority since March 2020, but it has not threatened the cohesion of our country because the rules were the same for everyone,” LREM lawmaker Pacome Rupin said on Tuesday.