French Lawmakers Reportedly Reach Consensus on Controversial COVID Bill as Protests Rock Nation
13:11 GMT 25.07.2021 (Updated: 17:44 GMT 25.07.2021)
© BENOIT TESSIERProtesters attend a demonstration called by the French nationalist party "Les Patriotes" (The Patriots) against France's restrictions to fight the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak, on the "Droits de l'Homme" (human rights) esplanade at the Trocadero Square in Paris, France, July 24, 2021. REUTERS/Benoit Tessier
© BENOIT TESSIER
The Fifth Republic has been shaken by two weeks of protests over a government initiative which would dramatically tighten anti-coronavirus restrictions, introduce strict vaccination requirements for some categories of workers and implement ‘Pass Sanitaire’ health passports which restrict access to leisure and cultural venues to the unvaccinated.
A French mixed parliamentary committee has reached an 'agreement in principle' on the controversial health bill which would mandate the creation of coronavirus health passports and introduce mandatory vaccination requirements for health care workers, firefighters, those caring for the elderly, and others deemed to be at heightened risk of infection, BMFTV reports, citing informed sources.
The committee debated the bill Sunday after French Senate approved it Saturday night. 199 of the Senate’s 348 lawmakers approved the measure, with 123 marking opposition to the initiative. The bill was adopted by the National Assembly, the lower house of France’s parliament, on Friday.
Sunday's debate was said to have been 'heated', with agreement nevertheless said to be reached in a bid to avoid further protracted consideration of the document in both chambers and their respective legislative commissions.
The National Assembly and the Senate must now approve the bill before the end of the day. If adopted, the bill will be submitted for examination to the constitutional council, which should give its opinion in two-three days' time.
In addition to mandatory vaccinations for certain categories of workers, the so-called Pass Sanitaire initiative proposes the introduction of restrictions in cafes, restaurants, bars, cultural venues, shopping centres, medical facilities, airplanes and long distance trains requiring citizens to present a certificate of vaccination, a negative coronavirus test, or proof of recovery from the virus, starting in August. Under the bill, currently available PCR tests will no longer be free unless prescribed by a doctor. The measure also proposes giving the state the right to vaccinate young people aged as young as 16-17 years old without parental consent.
The bill, introduced by President Emmanuel Macron’s government following his 12 July appeal to the nation in which he announced a package of measures said to be aimed at slowing the spread of more infectious variants of COVID-19, has generated controversy.
The initiative has sparked spontaneous protests in cities across the country, including Paris, starting on 17 July and continuing into this past Saturday, with some activists demanding Macron’s resignation, and others asking for the proposed restrictions scrapped. According to French media, about 114,000 people took part in last week’s protests, and over 160,000 people turned up on Saturday, with 160+ demonstrations reported overall.
Opposition Blasts Bill
France is a leader among Western nations in efforts by authorities to increase vaccinations, with anti-vaxxers alleging that the regulations curb their personal freedoms and that they are turning the country into a “soft dictatorship.” The government claims the only alternative to the proposed measures is to resort again to national lockdowns. Restrictions similar to those of France have been devised and implemented in countries around the world under the guidance of the World Health Organization, national governments and vaccine producers.
About 44.4 percent of France’s population of 67 million has been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with the country reporting a total of 5.98 million cases and 112,000 deaths since the pandemic began last year.
French opposition leader and National Rally party leader Marine Le Pen has taken the lead in criticising the Pass Sanitaire initiative, emphasising that although she is not an antivaxer, she sees the matter as an issue of individual rights and public freedom. Le Pen voted against the bill in the National Assembly on Friday. Before that, she tabled an amendment to the bill asking for minors to be completely excluded from the provisions of the Pass Sanitaire. Le Pen further accused the government of sneaking the provision to force hospital patients and visitors to get the health passports in the dead of night after it had been rejected during daytime debate.
Speaking to media from French Polynesia, which he is visiting, Macron said he had a “very strong message:” that “everyone” should be vaccinated. “When you’re vaccinated, you’re protected and you hardly spread the virus, or at least much less,” Macron said.
The French are expected to go to the polls in April 2022 for presidential elections. A recent IPSOS poll showed Macron to be running neck and neck with Le Pen, whom he defeated in the 2017 elections, enjoying 24-27 percent support compared to her 24-26 percent.