(Headline USA) France’s parliament approved a law early Monday requiring special virus passes for all restaurants and domestic travel and mandating vaccinations for all health workers.
Both measures have prompted protests and political tensions. President Emmanuel Macron and his government say they are needed to protect vulnerable populations and hospitals as infections rebound and to avoid new lockdowns.
The law requires all workers in the health care sector to start getting vaccinated by Sept. 15, or risk suspension. It also requires a “health pass” to enter all restaurants, trains, planes and some other public venues. It initially applies to all adults, but will apply to everyone 12 and older starting Sept. 30.
To get the pass, people must have proof they are fully vaccinated, recently tested negative or recently recovered from the virus. Paper or digital documents will be accepted.
The law says a government decree will outline how to handle vaccination documents from other countries.
The bill was unveiled just six days ago. Lawmakers worked through the night and the weekend to reach a compromise version approved by the Senate on Sunday night and by the National Assembly after midnight. The rules can be applied through Nov. 15, depending on the virus situation.
Macron appealed for national unity and mass vaccination to fight the resurgent virus, and lashed out at those fueling anti-vaccine sentiment and protests.
In response, some 160,000 people, including pro-liberty activists and members of France’s yellow vest movement, protested Saturday across the country against a bill requiring everyone to have a special virus pass to enter restaurants.
The bill would also mandate COVID-19 vaccinations for all health care workers.
Similar protests were held in neighboring Italy.
Police fired water cannons and tear gas on rowdy protesters in Paris, although most gatherings were orderly.
Legislators in France’s Senate were debating the virus bill Saturday after the lower house of parliament approved it on Friday.
The French government wants to speed up vaccinations to protect vulnerable people and hospitals, and avoid any new lockdown.
Most French adults are fully vaccinated and multiple polls indicate a majority of French people support the new measures.
Protesters chanting “Liberty! Liberty!” gathered at Bastille plaza and marched through eastern Paris in one of several demonstrations Saturday around France.
Thousands also joined a gathering across the Seine River from the Eiffel Tower organized by a former top official in Marine Le Pen’s anti-immigration, French nationalist party.
While most protesters were calm, tensions erupted on the margins of the Bastille march
Riot police sprayed tear gas on marchers after someone threw a chair at an officer. Other projectiles were also thrown. Later some protesters moved to the Arc de Triomphe and police used water cannon to disperse them.
Marchers included right-wing politicians and activists as well as others angry at President Emmanuel Macron.
They were upset over a French “health pass” that is now required to enter museums, movie theaters and tourist sites. The bill under debate would expand the pass requirement to all restaurants and bars in France and some other venues.
To get the pass, people need to be fully vaccinated, have a recent negative test or have proof they recently recovered from the virus.
Many protesters said they felt they were being rushed into something they’re not ready to do.
Céline Augen, a secretary at a doctor’s office, is prepared to lose her job under the new measure because she doesn’t want to be forced to take a shot.
Ayoub Bouglia, an engineer, said, “We need to wait a little bit before the French people can decide … I think a part of France is always going to be unwilling and that blackmail and threats won’t work.”
In Italy, thousands of protesters gathered in Rome, Milan, Verona and other cities Saturday, protesting the government’s decision to require a “Green Pass” to access indoor dining, local fairs, stadiums, cinemas and other gathering places.
In the northern city of Verona, several thousand people marched down the main shopping street, chanting “No Green Pass!” and “Freedom!”
They included families with young children, medical doctors who said they are risking their jobs not to get vaccinated and people who likened the Green Pass decision to decisions by dictatorships.
The demonstrations proceeded peacefully and dissipated into summer evening crowds.
Despite the vocal opposition, Italy’s new requirement, effective Aug. 3, has led to a boom in vaccine appointments in Italy, where so far nearly half of the eligible population is fully vaccinated.
Adapted from reporting by the Associated Press.