Covid-19 jabs will be mandatory for France’s health workers and anyone wanting to get into a cinema or board a train will need to show proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test under new rules announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.
Unveiling sweeping measures to combat a surge in infections, Macron said vaccinations would not be compulsory for the general public but encouraged everyone to get a jab.
“We must go towards vaccination of all French people, it is the only way towards a normal life,” Macron said in a televised address to the nation.
“A new race against the clock is on,” he said, referring to the highly contagious Delta variant.
France has an entrenched anti-vaccination movement but authorities had so far believed they could curb the spread of the coronavirus by convincing enough people, including medical staff, to get inoculated voluntarily.
But a slowdown in vaccination rates and a sharp upturn in new infections due to the now-dominant Delta variant have forced a government rethink for health workers, who must now get vaccinated by 15th September.
Vaccination will also be compulsory for people working in retirement homes.
Macron said that a health pass required to attend large-scale events or to go clubbing will be required much more widely, including for restaurants, cinemas and theatres. It will also be required to board long-distance trains and planes from the start of August, giving a further incentive for people to get the shot.
“We will extend the health pass as much as possible to push as many of you as possible to get vaccinated,” Macron said.
The health pass provides proof that a person has either been vaccinated against the coronavirus or has recently had a negative PCR test for Covid-19.
France has gone from an average of more than 400,000 first injections per day at the end of May to about 165,000 per day now. Some 53.1% of the French have had a single dose of a Covid-19 vaccine and 40.6% are fully inoculated – not enough to stop the virus’ spread.
Mandatory vaccination, even for health care workers and other professionals who come into contact with people vulnerable to Covid-19, is not widespread in Europe, and Macron had previously ruled it out for France.
Italy, which has been particularly hard-hit by the pandemic and made the shots mandatory for healthcare workers at the end of March, had so far been the exception. But Greece made a similar announcement on Monday, saying health care workers and nursing home staff will have to be vaccinated.
The fast-spreading Delta variant risks undermining economic recoveries if allowed to spiral out of control, forcing some governments to rethink their COVID-19 strategies just as citizens look forward to summer holidays.
The Dutch government reimposed curbs on nightclubs, music festivals and restaurants on Friday while Spain’s Canary Islands have asked the government to bring back curfews.
England, however, is loosening restrictions and will be the first nation in Britain to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to socially distance from 19th July.
After falling from more than 42,000 per day in mid-April to less than 2,000 per day in late June, the average number of new infections per day in France has crept back up again, standing now at nearly 4,000 per day.
If no measures were taken and the same trend continued, France could see up to 20,000 new cases per day by the end of July, epidemiologists say.
France’s National Medicine Academy, a doctors’ society, has recently pressed authorities to go further and make vaccination compulsory for everyone aged 12 and above.