France mandates Covid health pass for restaurants and cafés

Anyone entering a restaurant, café, shopping centre, hospital or taking a long-distance train in France will have to show a special Covid health pass from August, Emmanuel Macron has announced, as France tightens restrictions to contain the rising Delta variant.

The same Covid health pass – which shows that a person has been vaccinated or had a negative Covid test – will be similarly required for anyone over the age of 12 to enter a cinema, theatre, museum, theme park or cultural centre from as early as 21 July, the president said, in a bid to pressure more French people to take up vaccines.

“You’ve understood – vaccination is not immediately obligatory for everyone, but we’re going to extend the health pass to the maximum, in order to push a maximum of you to go and get vaccinated,” the president told the nation.

Macron also announced mandatory Covid-19 vaccinations for workers in healthcare and in retirement homes. Vaccine checks on those workers would begin in September, with a risk of sanctions or fines. The compulsory vaccines also applied to all volunteers or staff in contact with elderly or vulnerable people in their homes, including home-helps.

“Our country is facing a surge in the epidemic across our territory, in mainland France as well as overseas,” Macron said at the start of the televised address.

“The situation is under control, but if we do not act now the number of cases will increase significantly and will lead to a rise in hospitalisations,” he said.

France has vaccinated 40% of its population and vaccines are widely available for anyone aged 12 and over. Macron said doses were available and urged French people to do their “civic” duty of getting a jab – which would be recognised with more freedoms, while the government would be “putting in restrictions on the non-vaccinated rather than on everyone”, he said.

After Macron’s speech, the French medical booking site, Doctolib, reported a rush of people seeking to make appointments for vaccines.

From the autumn, Covid-19 tests, which have been free until now, will need to be paid for, except with a prescription from a doctor. “This is to encourage vaccination rather than multiple tests,” Macron said.

Macron’s announcements represent a change in direction for the government after several months of progressively lifting restrictions.

The French government and health advisers are concerned at the speed with which the Delta variant is spreading. The health minister Olivier Veran has called the Delta variant “the new enemy” because it is so much more contagious than previous strains. The number of new cases in France has jumped to about 4,200 a day, according to the latest available official figures, although the number of deaths in hospital – four in the past 24 hours – is low. About 7,000 people with Covid are in hospital in France.

The measures also highlight the different strategies being followed in most European countries compared with Britain, where the government announced on Monday that it would press ahead with “Freedom Day” next week by lifting most pandemic curbs in England.

Italy has made coronavirus vaccinations obligatory for health care workers and pharmacists. In Denmark, restaurants and public events require a digital pass showing that the holder has been fully vaccinated or has a recent negative test. Some German states require the same for restaurants.

The centrist Macron, who is expected to run for re-election next spring, also used the televised speech to attempt to shift his image from health-crisis manager back to that of the reformist he had promised to be before Covid. He said he intended to plough ahead with his planned overhaul of France’s welfare state, vowing that his proposed reform of the unemployment benefits system – which has angered unions – would go ahead from October. “One must always earn more working than staying at home, which currently isn’t always the case,” he said.

Macron also said his proposed overhaul of the complex pensions system, which had been stalled at the start of the Covid lockdowns in 2020, was still under discussion and could be put into action “when the health situation allows”.

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