Where's your health pass? Visitors heading to museums, cinemas, or swimming pools in France will be denied entry from Wednesday if they cannot show the document that proves they have been vaccinated against COVID-19 or have had a recent negative test.
The health pass, previously only required for large-scale festivals or to go clubbing, will also be needed from the start of August to enter restaurants and bars and for long-distance train and plane journeys, as authorities try to slow the spread of the virus and encourage people to get vaccinated.
The new rule came as a shock for some on Wednesday.
"I was really angry ... I had no idea," said Nelly Breton, 51, after being turned away from the Louvre museum in Paris because not enough time had elapsed since her vaccination for her health pass to become valid.
"But then I calmed down and understood there were health reasons," she said, adding that she would now look for a pharmacy to get a rapid COVID test.
With the highly contagious Delta variant now dominant in France, tougher measures are essential and new lockdowns cannot be ruled out, Prime Minister Jean Castex told TF1 television.
Regional prefects will now be able to take further measures on a case-by-case basis, such as requiring some businesses to shut earlier than usual or imposing the wearing of face masks outdoors - as has already happened in recent days in areas with surging infections.
Some 96% of those who tested positive for COVID-19 on Monday had not been vaccinated, Castex said, adding that he hoped the number of people receiving their first shot would hit 50 million by the end of August, in a total population of 67 million. The figure stood at about 38.1 million as of Tuesday.
THREAT TO LIBERTY?
Back at the Louvre, Servane de Landsheer, head of security at the museum, said this first morning of health pass checks was going well, with most visitors possessing the document and those who did not have it agreeing to get a quick COVID test.
However, the introduction of the health pass — a QR code on your smartphone or on a piece of paper — has proved hugely contentious in France, triggering protests nationwide.
To shouts of "Freedom!" and "No to the health pass," more than 100,000 people joined rallies across France last weekend against a pass they say infringes their liberties. More protests are expected in the coming days.
Police sources fear the rallies could escalate into the kind of large-scale protests staged by the anti-government 'yellow vest' movement, which caused major disruption for about two years before being curbed by the COVID lockdowns.
Under the new health pass rule, holders of the document can remove their masks once indoors - in a loosening of precautions criticized by epidemiologists - unless local authorities or the business itself decide otherwise.
Businesses which fail to check that their clients have the health pass could eventually face fines totalling thousands of euros, but the government said there would be a grace period, to give everyone time to adapt to the new system.
© 2022 Thomson/Reuters. All rights reserved.