French parliament backs Macron’s COVID-19 ‘health-pass’

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France’s parliament on Wednesday backed President Emmanuel Macron’s plan to introduce a COVID-19 “health pass”, after deputies pushed back against the move arguing it was discriminatory for those not yet vaccinated.

Macron wants the pass to help speed up the lifting of coronavirus restrictions as his COVID-19 vaccination program gathers pace.

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It will be used to travel outside France for people showing proof of coronavirus vaccination, a recent negative test or recovery from a COVID-19 infection.

Opposition parties have criticized the bill for posing a discrimination risk, not least because millions of people have yet to be inoculated.

Even some deputies usually loyal to Macron balked at what they said was a lack of details on how the pass would be used, saying the government was basically asking for a blank cheque.

They pressed for a firm number on how many passholders would be allowed at large gatherings, but the government insisted on a need to remain flexible.

The disagreement led to an initial defeat of the bill by 108 votes to 103 in the lower-house National Assembly, with a high number of abstentions. But in the early hours of Wednesday it passed 208 to 85.

“There was no dialogue and no listening” to concerns, said Philippe Latombe, a member of the centrist Modem party that usually backs the government.

But in the end, the bill was modified so that a transition period during which the government can still impose restrictions was shortened, from June 2 to the end of September, rather the end of October.

The health pass, which will take a digital or paper form, is to let people attend sporting events and other large gatherings, but would not be used to enter restaurants, cinemas or stores.

It would dovetail with the “green certificate” the EU hopes to have in place next month to ease travel during the summer holidays.

“The health pass will allow us to reopen places welcoming the public, festivals and gatherings,” Digital Affairs Minister Cedric O had said.

“Without this health pass, we would have to wait much longer,” he added.

Prime Minister Jean Castex told Le Parisien newspaper that “we are moving towards the end” of restrictions and “that is good news”.

But France’s scientific council, which advises the government on health issues, has warned that coming months were “still very uncertain”.

The council said the government should wait for new cases to drop to 10,000 per day, compared with 17,000 now, before lifting restrictions.

The government has announced the reopening of cafe and restaurant terraces on May 19, with reduced numbers of patrons.

Some 18.5 million people in France have now received their first vaccine dose, representing more than 35 percent of the adult population.

Of the total, 8.2 million have also had their second jab.

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