French gov’t vows to press on with vaccine pass despite hitch

A planned vote on the bill has been delayed after opponents rallied to suspend parliamentary discussions overnight.

People line up at a COVID-19 vaccination centre in Nice, France
The new law, if passed, would make it mandatory for people over the age of 12 to present a valid vaccination certificate to enter leisure venues such as restaurants and bars [File: Eric Gaillard/Reuters]

France has backed legislation mandating vaccine passes by mid-January, despite the bill hitting a procedural hitch in parliament overnight.

European Affairs Minister Clement Beaune told LCI television on Tuesday that January 15 remained the “goal” for the law coming into force.

His remarks came after tense parliamentary discussions on the bill were halted past midnight on Monday, when a majority of deputies voted to suspend the session ahead of an anticipated vote.

Pro-government politicians, who hold a majority of seats in parliament, were caught by surprise and were not present in the chamber in sufficient numbers to block the motion.

Until now, France has enforced a COVID-19 health pass, which means people need to either show a fresh negative test, or proof of vaccination to access restaurants, cafes and trains.

The new legislation will remove the option of showing a negative test, effectively barring unvaccinated people over the age of 12 from accessing such venues and services.

The government is trying to push the bill forward as the highly transmissible Omicron variant of COVID-19 drives a record-breaking surge in infections nationwide, with new daily cases regularly soaring past the 200,000 mark over the past week.

Race against Omicron

Despite the rise in cases, the vaccine pass legislation has faced fierce resistance from anti-vaccination campaigners as well as far-right and far-left groups.

Some politicians who support the bill say they have been subject to aggression including vandalism and violent threats.

The heads of the various parliamentary groups will organise new debates on the legislation to resume, said Annie Genevard, the vice-president of the National Assembly, the lower house of parliament.

Once approved in the lower house, the Senate will vote on the new law, before it comes into force.

“The minister of relations with parliament and parliament members will discuss the timetable today. We could have the National Assembly and parliament sitting over the weekend to accelerate. We need to move fast,” Beaune said.

France has vaccinated 77 percent of its population to date and is rushing out booster shots in a bid to contain Omicron. But more than four million adults remain unvaccinated, including more than one million people over age 65.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies