France enforces Covid-19 health pass despite protests

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France has began enforcing a Covid pass championed by President Emmanuel Macron in cafes, restaurants and trains, a tightening of rules the government hopes will boost vaccinations but which has prompted weeks of angry protests.

The pass, already needed for the last three weeks to go to a cinema, attend a concert or visit a museum, will be needed to partake in usually routine aspects of life in France such as sipping a coffee in a cafe or travelling on an inter-city train.

Almost a quarter of a million rallied nationwide on Saturday against the extension of the pass, the biggest in four consecutive weekends of protests, but Macron has shown little patience with the demonstrators’ concerns over vaccination or alleged erosion of civil liberties.

The health pass is generated in a QR code either by a full course of vaccinations, a recent negative virus test or a recovery from Covid-19. The government expects a one-week grace period for consumers and businesses to get used to the new rules.

As cafes opened for business on Monday morning, there were early signs of frustration in establishments that have had to survive long months of closure during pandemic lockdowns.

“They don’t have the health pass and there is nothing I can do,” said Mirela Mihalca, waiting on a table at a cafe in central Paris, pointing to two customers who sat down but who she had refused to serve.

“Some understand it quickly, others not. It is going to be difficult, we are not the police!” she added.

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At a cafe in the centre of the southwestern city of Bordeaux, manager David Fourton described the new rules as a “pain” that would require the hiring of an extra person to carry out the checks.

“And if we turn clients away what is there reaction going to be? It will slow things down for sure and risks being an utter mess at busy times.”

State railway company SNCF was also gradually implementing controls, with passengers at Montparnasse station in Paris given paper bracelets after showing their health pass to platform agents.

Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said checks were being carried out on around a quarter of inter-city trains on Monday.

Macron hopes the plan will further accelerate the vaccination drive in France where over 55 percent are now double-jabbed. Aides have noted that almost seven million new bookings were made for first jabs since the plans were outlined.

About 237,000 people protested across France on Saturday, including 17,000 in Paris, the interior ministry said, exceeding the 204,000 recorded last weekend — numbers that are extremely unusual for protests at the height of the summer break.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin wrote on Twitter that a woman had been arrested after the image of a slogan police said was “manifestly anti-Semitic” brandished at a protest in the eastern city of Metz on Saturday went viral on social media.