What changes with France's new vaccine pass?

By Alison Hird with RFI
France AP - Michel Spingler
JAN 24, 2022 LISTEN
AP - Michel Spingler

The vaccine pass takes over from the health pass on Monday – a “game-changer allowing normal activities to resume again”, according to France's minister for tourism and small businesses. So what changes exactly?

The vaccine pass (pass vaccinal) – showing proof of vaccination against Covid-19 – is now needed to access many public places in France including bars, cafés, restaurants, leisure centres, gyms, cultural venues, and long-distance trains.

A negative Covid test is no longer enough to allow entry to such venues.

People who are not fully vaccinated, which includes a booster shot for most adults, will now need to show either a certificate of Covid recovery less than six months old or a certificate of medical exemption to get into such venues.

Who is concerned?
The vaccine pass is required for everyone aged 16 and above. 16 and 17-year-olds do not yet need to have the booster shot.

Children aged 12-15 can continue to use the health pass, which allows for a negative Covid test no more than 24 hours old.

Where does it apply?
The vaccine pass replaces the health pass in bars and restaurants but not canteens, takeaways and truck stops. It applies to cinemas, museums, theatres, gyms, leisure centres, sports stadiums, live entertainment venues as well as fairgrounds, seminars and professional trade fairs.

It is required for using inter-regional transport (train, bus or plane) and could be applied in department stores and shopping centres if prefects decide.

Employees who had to present a health pass in their place of work must now show a vaccine pass, but can continue working if they are in the process of completing their course of vaccination.

How to get the pass?
“For people who already have a valid health pass there will be nothing to do,” France's digital affairs minister Cédric O told RTL, explaining that the app used by waiters etc to check customers' health passes will synchronise with the new algorithms.

The vaccine pass is not necessary for people to access non-emergency medical care or visit a health or social establishment, including nursing homes. A negative test can be shown.

No pass is required to access emergency care.
Unvaccinated people can still provide a negative test to be able to take inter-regional transport if there are “imperative reasons of a family or health nature”.

Following review by the Constitutional Council, the pass does not apply to political rallies.

Prefects can decide to maintain the health pass in their territories temporarily “if local circumstances justify it”. This has happened in Guadeloupe, Martinique and Guyane where vaccination rates are far lower than on the mainland.

Controversial ID checks
In a bid to combat vaccine pass fraud, staff in health pass venues like cafés and restaurants can request a customer's ID. This can be any official document with the person's photo on it.

A controversial measure during parliamentary debate, the ID can only be requested “in the event there is a serious doubt over the authenticity of the pass”.

Sanctions in the event of fraud
Presenting a fake pass or allowing someone to use your pass fraudulently is punishable with a 1,000-euro fine.

The fine can be waivered if the person presenting the fake pass undertakes to begin a course of vaccination the following month.

The possession of several fake vaccine passes can carry up to five years in prison and a 75,000-euro fine.

Employees who are required to check vaccine passes and fail to do so risk a 1,000-euro fine.

Inciting the unvaccinated
The new pass is an attempt to push more people to get fully vaccinated, including a booster injection.

90.8 percent of the over 12s are fully vaccinated and 78.1 percent of France's population overall.

While President Macron recently said his strategy was to “piss off” the unvaccinated, a number of measures seek to keep the doors open.

People who have their first dose between 20 January and 15 February will be able to use a combination of that first jab and a negative Covid test to gain access to health pass venues.

Those getting their first dose after 15 February will have to wait seven days after their second dose to be able to use the vaccine pass.

Is it working?
"The vaccine pass is a game-changer and will allow normal activities to resume again," Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne, France's minister for tourism and small businesses, told Europe 1 radio on Sunday.

"Last summer, the health pass is what enabled us to face the virus wave and keep a certain number of businesses open: it's the same thing here," he added.

France has logged a record-high number of Covid-19 cases, with up to half a million daily infections per day last week, pushed by the highly-contagious Omicron variant.

Despite the high infection rate, the government has outlined a plan to lift restrictions from February, ending mandatory mask-wearing outside and remote-working.

The law allowing for the introduction of the vaccine pass was hotly debated in parliament and finally adopted last week following the approval of the Constitutional Council, with conditions.

A small but vocal minority of people in France remain actively opposed to the vaccine pass, arguing it impinges on their freedom to choose. Tens of thousands protested over the weekend.

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