France passed a new Covid-19 law late on Sunday that makes health passes mandatory for a number of indoor venues as the country faces a fourth wave of infections. The vote came after days of heated parliamentary debates that lasted long into the night and protests against the measure in dozens of French cities.
President Emmanuel Macron said on Sunday, “With the Delta variant, the epidemic is picking up again,” adding, “My message is simple: to get vaccinated.”
About 40 million people, or nearly 60 percent of France’s population, have received a first shot, but the number of new daily cases has risen steeply over the past week, to over 15,000 on average, from fewer than 2,000 at the end of June.
Over 160,000 people demonstrated around France over the weekend to protest the health pass legislation, with brief clashes between largely unmasked protesters and police officers in Paris. Far-right politicians and members of the Yellow Vest movement were among those organizing the marches.
The health pass — paper or digital proof of being fully vaccinated, of a recent negative test or of a recent Covid-19 recovery — was already mandatory to attend large events in stadiums and concert halls, and to enter cultural venues like cinemas, museums and theaters.
The new law, which will be implemented in early August and can apply until Nov. 15, extends that obligation to bars, restaurants, gyms and certain malls. Establishments that fail to enforce the rules will face penalties, and their employees could face pay suspensions — but not firings — if they fail to get vaccinated as well.
A valid health pass will also be required for nonurgent visits to medical facilities and long-distance train and bus rides. Young people ages 12 to 17 are exempted from the rules until Sept. 3.
Mr. Macron, speaking during a visit to the Pacific islands of French Polynesia, said that he respected people who had doubts about getting their shots and that the authorities would respond to them with “patience, conviction, support.” But he criticized those who were in “irrational, sometimes cynical and manipulative” opposition to the vaccines.
“A freedom where I don’t owe anything to anyone doesn’t exist,” Mr. Macron told reporters at a hospital in Tahiti, one of the islands. “What is your liberty worth if you tell me you don’t want to get vaccinated? And tomorrow, you infect your father, your mother or myself. I am a victim of your freedom.”
Mr. Macron cited the possibility that hospitals would have to push back crucial surgeries, as they have during past waves, to make room for Covid-19 patients who had refused to get their shots.
“That is not called freedom,” he said. “That is called irresponsibility, selfishness.”
The new law also obligates health employees and other essential workers, such as firefighters, to get vaccinated by the fall, and it makes a 10-day isolation period mandatory after an infection. Before it can be enforced, the law must still be reviewed next week by the Constitutional Council, which verifies that legislation complies with the Constitution.