New Covid rules spark France vaccination rush and online backlash

·3-min read
A festival-goer gets their Covid-19 vaccine certificate checked as they arrive on the opening day of the 29th edition of the Les Vieilles Charrues music festival

A record number of French people booked appointments for Covid-19 jabs after President Emmanuel Macron announced restrictions on the unvaccinated, including mandatory tests to enter restaurants.

The head of the main website to book vaccination appointments said traffic was at an all-time high following Macron's televised speech on Monday night.

"We recorded 20,000 appointments per minute, an absolute record since the start of the campaign, and it's continued during the night and into this morning," Doctolib boss Stanislas Niox-Chateau told BFMTV.

A total of 926,000 people had booked a jab on the site, with 65 percent of them under 35, he added.

Macron announced that from August anyone wanting to go out to eat or drink, take a long-distance train or visit a shopping centre would need to show a "health pass", which means either proof of vaccination or a negative test.

The pass will also be needed to attend a festival, a theatre show or a cinema screening as part of the government's strategy to tackle the surging number of new cases linked to the Delta variant.

Free Covid tests will end in September "to encourage vaccination instead of taking many tests", Macron added in the speech watched by 22 million people.

The head of state also announced mandatory vaccinations for healthcare staff, retirement home workers and others working with vulnerable people from September, in line with similar moves in Greece, Italy and Britain.

- Objections -
The measures sparked fierce criticism by some on social media, with the French word for dictatorship -- #Dictature -- trending on Twitter amid accusations the government has introduced mandatory vaccination by stealth.

Some objected on the grounds that the health pass infringed on the personal liberty to choose to get vaccinated or not, while anti-vaxxers pushed conspiracy theories about the links between the government and pharmaceutical companies.

A tweet from Macron from December 2020 in which he said "the vaccine will not be obligatory" was also shared.

French far-right leader Marine Le Pen criticised the government for making vaccinations mandatory for healthcare staff, who will not be paid after September 15 if they are not jabbed.

"We applauded them at 8pm, considered them our daily heroes, always there despite their low salaries and difficult working conditions," she wrote on Twitter. "Now they're being made to feel guilty and threatened with not being paid, with indecent brutality."

Jocelyn Bouyssy, the head of the CGR Cinemas group, told Franceinfo radio that he was "very angry" about the health pass which would be difficult to implement and dissuade people from going out to watch a film.

"We're like lambs being led to the slaughter," he said.

Health Minister Olivier Veran insisted that the health pass was "not a punishment, it's not blackmail".

"You can carry on working without being vaccinated, taking your children to school without being vaccinated," he told RMC radio.

He said the choice was between accepting the new measures, which primarily affect the unvaccinated, or heading for a fourth lockdown, which would hit the whole country.

"We want to avoid a lockdown at all costs," he said.

The number of new cases has been rising sharply in France to more than 4,000 in recent days because of the more infectious Delta variant.

Around 35.5 million people -- just over half of France's population -- have received at least one vaccine dose so far, but the rate of injections has slowed in recent weeks.

At the start of the pandemic, France had some of the highest levels of vaccine scepticism in the developed world.

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