On Monday, French MPs began discussing draft legislation that would require most people to be vaccinated against Covid-19 to enter public spaces such as bars, restaurants and long-distance public transport.
The bill’s headline measure, called the “vaccine passport”, aims to get France’s remaining five million unvaccinated people over 12 to accept a shot.
So far, a recent negative test has been enough to secure a “health card” that provides access to the same activities.
But the Omicron variant of coronavirus has increased average daily confirmed cases to more than 160,000 per day over the past week, with peaks above 200,000.
– The tidal wave has really arrived, it is huge, but we will not give in to panic, says Minister of Health Olivier Veran to the parliament.
In response to critics who say the law violates people’s civil liberties, Veran added that “selfishness often hides behind talk of supposed freedom”.
Although there is strong opposition to the bill in parts of the left and the far right, the support of President Emmanuel Macron’s center party and most conservatives and socialists from the opposition should see it through the lower house.
It is expected to enter into force on January 15 after passing the upper house’s senate.
In addition to changing the title to provide access to many aspects of public life based on vaccines, the bill would also mean heavier penalties for those who share or falsify their vaccine passports, and for places that do not check them.
People who hold a fake passport can risk a penalty of up to five years in prison and a fine of 75,000 euros (85,000 USD).
France has also adjusted the rules for how schools should respond to infected students, allowing them to return earlier if more frequent follow-up tests turn out to be negative after just five days.
Later on Monday, Prime Minister Jean Castex was expected to meet with ministers to discuss the impact on key services such as hospitals, transport, police and energy from a large number of people calling in sick.
And after meeting with representatives of employers’ organizations and the tourism, hotel and restaurant industry, Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire said the government would increase access to support for companies suffering from anti-coronavirus measures.