France’s introduction of a controversial health pass has proven successful in addressing the threats posed by both high rates of vaccine skepticism and the Delta variant, while offering Emmanuel Macron a useful political letter. to play before the presidential elections in April.
The French government announced Wednesday that it will extend the requirement for a health pass (sanitary pass) to access most public spaces, possibly until July 31, 2022. The pass is mandatory for anyone looking to access transportation. long distance or places like restaurants. , cafes, bars, cinemas, museums and sports stadiums.
The pass consists of a QR code that shows that someone has been fully vaccinated, recovered from Covid in the previous six months, or received a negative result from a PCR or antigen test taken in the previous 48 hours.
To further complicate matters for the unvaccinated, coronavirus tests will no longer be free in France as of Thursday. Those who have so far chosen not to receive the jab will now have to pay for each test required to enter public spaces.
‘A brave move’
As the vaccine launch in France got off to a poor start earlier this year, a health pass testing vaccination status emerged as one of the proposed measures that would allow French society to return to normal.
But many observers were concerned about the high rates of anti-vaccine sentiment in France, among the highest in the world. An Ipsos survey published in November 2020 found that 46 percent of French adults said they would decline a coronavirus vaccine, compared to 21 percent in the UK and 30 percent in Germany. The previous year, a Gallup poll revealed that one in three French people thought all vaccines were dangerous, the highest proportion in the 144 countries surveyed.
This state of affairs led Macron to tread carefully, especially as the main line of attack by his critics had long been describing him as a technocratic elite out of touch. This perception helped fuel the Yellow Vest protests of 2018, the main crisis of his presidency before the pandemic.
So many were surprised when Macron unveiled the health pass in July. “It was a brave move,” said Andrew Smith, a professor of French politics at the University of Chichester.
Indeed, protests against the health pass broke out, with more than 100,000 taking to the streets of France at the height of the demonstrations, which continue every Saturday across France despite declining numbers.
Some protesters and politicians have denounced that health overlooks civil liberties concerns, while conspiracy theories about the pandemic and the vaccine have motivated many others. Populist brands at both ends of the spectrum have provided most of the political opposition to the pass: Rassemblement National leader Marine Le Pen, on the far right, called the health pass from the outset a “ step back for individual liberties ”; Far-left leader France Unbowed (La France Insoumise) Jean-Luc Mélenchon denounced it as an “abuse of power”.
‘Definitely a success’
Yet polls have repeatedly shown that around two-thirds of the French support Macron’s health pass. Despite their visibility on the streets of major French cities over successive weekends in recent months, opponents of the measure represent only 20 to 25 percent of the population, polls show.
More importantly, the Covid step saw an increase in France’s vaccination rate. More than a million people made an appointment for the vaccine in the 24 hours after Macron’s announcement on July 12 that a health pass would be required for public places starting in August. Almost 10 million people received a first dose during the following month.
When Macron first presented the health pass, only 54 percent of the French population had received a dose. Now that figure has risen to 75 percent, with France beating Britain, the United States and Germany in the vaccination race.
The president introduced the measure amid an alarming new rise in confirmed Covid cases as the highly communicable Delta variant took hold in France. That rise reached its zenith when the seven-day moving average surpassed 25,000 in August but plunged below 4,000 on October 13 after the increase in vaccines took effect.
“The health pass can certainly be seen as a success,” Smith said. “It allowed the Macron government to reverse a very bad wave of Covid that was hitting France severely.”
“There is definitely a connection between people who learn to live with the pass, realizing that it is a minor inconvenience that has led to a great sense of security and freedom, and acceptance of vaccines,” continued Smith. “Experience showed that much of the scaremongering about vaccines and the pass was ridiculous, and in this way, the health pass helped overcome a greater reluctance to receive a jab, except among a group of people for whom any measure would be a step too far. ”
This effect is likely to continue as people have to pay for Covid testing starting October 15, Smith added. “I think it will encourage vaccine bums, particularly among the young; many will have the feeling that, first of all, it is useful to get vaccinated to return completely to normality, especially in the winter, when people spend more time indoors. ”
A blessing for Macron?
Some also see Macron’s introduction of the health pass as a political move ahead of the April presidential elections, designed to bolster his credentials as a strong leader who took a bold step to lift France out of the Covid crisis.
Although the precedent shows that shock twists characterize the French presidential elections, Macron is currently on track to achieve reelection by a narrow margin by prevailing against Le Pen in the second round, according to the aggregated Politico poll. The French presidential elections consist of two rounds separated by two weeks.
Seen from this perspective, the success of the health pass in promoting vaccines, amid mass protests in which fringe figures and conspirators have taken center stage, seems like a potential asset for Macron as he takes on the political extremes in the campaign. electoral.
“The pass allows Macron to take a stand on the side of economic recovery, science, and indeed normalcy, while making opponents of the measure look like opponents of these things,” as Smith put it. “So Macron seems not only brave to take this step, but also astute, because it was a moment when he spoke on behalf of a large, silent majority who wanted normalcy to resume. It was a successful, adult response to the public health crisis that made Macron’s political opponents seem less adult, even less useful. “