Covid pass now required for French restaurants and trains

Law takes effect despite continuing protests but large number of exceptions to dilute impact

France’s law on its anti-Covid health pass took effect on Monday, meaning that many activities now require a QR code proving the bearer has received two vaccinations, tested negative within the previous 72 hours or recovered recently from Covid-19.

Those found to be in violation of the law risk a €135 fine. Three fraudulent uses of a health pass in one month can lead to six months in prison and a €3,750 fine. The managers of restaurants and other establishments who fail to check health passes more than three times in a 45-day period can be sentenced to one year in prison and a €9,000 fine.

The government promised to be flexible for one week.

President Emmanuel Macron has stuck to his strategy despite protest marches on four consecutive Saturdays. An estimated 237,000 people demonstrated across the country against the health pass on August 7th. Such a turnout is unusual for the summer holiday period, but it is tiny compared with the 44 million French people who have received at least one jab.

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Health minister Olivier Véran regretted that “the millions of French people who have respected barrier gestures, were careful for the sake of loved ones and got vaccinated” attracted far less attention than “the magma of people who are anti-state, anti-science and anti-vax”.

Studies show that protesters come from the same underprivileged, often rural and far right-wing segment of the population which generated the yellow vest movement in 2018-2019.

Marine Le Pen, the leader of the far right Rassemblement national, on Monday claimed: "The French are under house arrest". She denounced "the liberticide and discriminatory decision of the Macron regime" and "a coercive system of generalised surveillance".

A meme on social media shows the face of the dictator Kim Jong-un. “North Korea offers political asylum to French people fleeing dictatorship,” it says.

Compulsory

The health pass has been required for cinemas, museums, theme parks and sports facilities since July 21st for events exceeding 50 people. That threshold has been abandoned, and the pass is now compulsory for access to all restaurants and bars, including outdoor cafe terraces.

Restaurant personnel say the law threatens a profession already severely penalised by the pandemic. They complain vociferously that they “are not gendarmes”. They must download the “TousAntiCovid Vérif” app which enables them to scan QR codes with a smartphone. But security forces alone have the authority to check identity papers, so individuals can easily present a photocopy of someone else’s pass.

As often happens in France, the law's enforcement is likely to be compromised by its complexity and by a plethora of deadlines and exceptions.

Clients in hotels must present the pass to gain access to public areas including restaurants, bars, swimming pools and health clubs. Bed and breakfasts and camping sites do not require a pass.

Exempted

Places of worship are exempted, unless they are used for concerts or lectures, in which case the pass is required. Takeaway vendors, bakeries, grocery stores, tea salons and restaurants for lorry drivers and railway employees are also exempted.

The constitutional council left the requirement for a pass to enter a shopping centre larger than 20,000 square metres at the discretion of the local prefect.

The pass is required for long journeys by train, plane or coach. But the Eurostar, regional trains, local buses and metros are exceptions. One needs a pass to enter a hospital or care home, but not for the emergency room or an appointment with one's GP.

The pass is not required for weddings in private homes or in churches, but it is required in rented premises and in town halls where civil ceremonies take place.

Differing deadlines

Aspects of the health pass requirement are subject to differing deadlines. Employees of places that receive members of the public are not required to obtain passes until August 30th. If they fail to do so, they will be suspended without salary until the requirement expires on or after November 15th. The pass will be demanded for most travel until June 30th, 2022.

Healthcare workers have until September 15th to receive their first dose of vaccine, and until October 15th to receive the second. The pass will be required of all teenagers from September 30th.

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe

Lara Marlowe is Paris Correspondent of The Irish Times