By Richard Lough
PARIS (Reuters) -France’s highest court upheld a new law requiring the public to hold a health pass to access bars and restaurants and health workers to be vaccinated against COVID-19 by mid-September, saying it complied with the republic’s founding charter.
The legislation, drawn up as France tackles a fourth wave of infections driven by the Delta variant, goes further than most other European nations in conditioning daily-life activities on either a vaccine certificate or recent negative COVID-19 test.
France had already required since July 21 a health pass to access museums, cinemas and swimming pools. From Aug. 9, this will be extended to restaurants, bars, cafes, large shopping malls and long-distance trains.
Meanwhile, healthcare workers must get inoculated by mid-September or face suspension until at least mid-November.
Macron unveiled his plans for the legislation in July with the simple message: get the shot.
The vaccination rate jumped as people faced the prospect of being deprived of everyday pleasures. The majority of French people approve of the health pass requirements, an Elabe survey showed.
But opponents of the law accuse Macron of trampling on freedoms and discriminating against the unvaccinated.
“It’s depressing. I sensed it was coming but it’s still a blow,” hospital administration worker Nathalie Juyot said at a low-key protest on Thursday.
Juyot said she did not want the COVID vaccine but questioned what options she had. “I can’t afford not to have a salary,” she continued.
PRESSURE ON HOSPITALS
In its ruling on Thursday, the Constitutional Council did however strike down several clauses in the law. It said a mandatory 10-day quarantine on anyone testing COVID-19 positive impinged on freedoms.
It also ruled that while employers could suspend health and frontline workers who refuse to get a COVID-19 shot or show proof of a negative test, they could not dismiss those on short term contracts.
Macron has spoken of what he says is the irresponsibility and selfishness of those refusing the vaccine and said he would not buckle to the demands of the anti-vaccine, anti-health pass demonstrators who have protested across France the past three weekends.
“A few tens of thousands of people have lost their minds to such an extent that they say we live in a dictatorship,” Macron told Paris Match in an interview published on Wednesday.
Renewed pressure on the healthcare system underlined the need for the health pass, the government said.
Hospitals along the Riviera, in Corsica and the southern Occitanie region have this week again triggered their crisis management plans that include postponing some surgeries to free up beds.
At the La Cabasse restaurant near the Mediterranean port city of Toulon, manager Laurent Bondil said he was certain the health pass would hit his earnings but that he would adhere to the new regulations.
“Every day there’s a new rule. But what counts is that we’re still here.”
(Reporting by Richard Lough in Paris, additional reporting by Clotaire Achi in Toulon; Editing by Janet Lawrence, Mark Heinrich, William Maclean and Daniel Wallis)