September 27, 2021

Extension of the health pass in France: what are our European neighbors doing?

‘The health pass will never be a right of access that differentiates the French. It could not be compulsory to access the places of everyday life. ‘ These words are those of Emmanuel Macron. Last April, during an interview with the regional press, the President of the Republic firmly rejected the idea of a health pass. But just two months later, under pressure from the Delta variant, the executive did an about-face.

From July 21, the health pass will be compulsory for access to places of leisure and culture bringing together more than 50 people. Then from August, it will be necessary to sip a coffee, even on the terrace, enjoy a daily special in a restaurant or shop in a shopping center. And beware of establishments that do not check the QR codes of their customers attesting to a vaccination, a PCR test of less than 48 hours or a recovery from Covid-19 of less than six months: according to the preliminary government bill, they could be punished with a fine of up to 45,000 euros and one year in prison.

Since Emmanuel Macron’s announcements, accusations of a ‘health dictatorship’ have been spreading on social networks. More than 20,000 people, authorities said, demonstrated on Wednesday in the name of ‘freedom’ to protest against the president’s announcements.

Yet France is far from being an exception in Europe. Health certificates are already a reality for millions of Europeans.

Since May in Denmark

The vast majority of European countries only require a health pass for large events bringing together several hundred people, but several governments have decided to go further by imposing it in everyday places.

A pioneer of this type of device, Denmark was the first country in Europe to set up a ‘Coronapas’. To go to a restaurant, cinema or hairdresser, customers must show this health passport certifying a negative test of less than 72 hours, vaccination or recent recovery from Covid-19.

The health pass has also been part of the daily life of Austrians for almost two months, with rules similar to the Danish ‘Coronapas’.

In other EU countries, the health pass does not necessarily apply throughout the territory. In Germany, this obligation, which is a regional decision, depends on the incidence rate of the epidemic.

The principle is the same in Portugal, where the pass may be required in areas hardest hit by Covid-19. Moreover, this obligation remains limited to weekends.

In Luxembourg, the authorities are relatively flexible, since establishments can do without the ‘CovidCheck’, the local name of the health pass. In this case, they must comply with specific sanitary measures.

As for Greece, it is moving towards a much stricter regime. From Friday until the end of August, all closed places will only be able to accommodate vaccinated people.

France, with its health pass that applies in everyday places, throughout the country, even outside, is therefore one of the most restrictive EU countries.

A boost for vaccination?

In countries that have implemented a health pass to access bars or restaurants such as Austria and Denmark, vaccination coverage reaches 43% and 41% respectively. It is better than in France and its 36.5%, but below Spain, of which 45% of the population is fully vaccinated.

By making the vaccine almost unavoidable, the French government wants to believe in a surge among the undecided and recalcitrant and catch up on its European neighbors. According to the Doctolib site, more than two million people have made an appointment to receive a first injection since the announcements of the Head of State on Monday evening. But this boost could be short-lived, predicts Yves Coppieters, professor of public health at the Free University of Brussels (ULB), joined by France 24.

‘Compelling vaccination in order to participate in a whole range of social activities will indeed stimulate a number of people. This is called passive prevention. In public health, we know that it is very effective in the short term but it will run out of steam, ‘analyzes the epidemiologist. ‘Those who are still hesitant or against will not get vaccinated. We must therefore engage in active prevention, closer to people, and try to convince them with data and clear information. ‘

For Yves Coppieters, we should not rely entirely on vaccination to control the epidemic. ‘We must continue to make the tests accessible. Making them pay seems to me to be a mistake. In addition, ensuring the isolation of patients, following up on contact cases, respecting barrier gestures, is also essential. It is by maintaining all of these strategies that we will be able to ensure control of the epidemic in the coming weeks, ‘says the Belgian doctor, who believes that the French decision is more political than health.

After France, other European countries could take the path of a health pass extended to bars and restaurants. The question arises in Italy, while the number of contaminations is on the rise again. Ireland is also expected to demand a full vaccination schedule from its citizens in order to be able to visit pubs, which are scheduled to reopen on July 19.