September 19, 2021

Freedoms, calendar, controls … the subjects of contention for the health bill

‘Everywhere, we will have the same approach: recognize good citizenship and put the restrictions on the unvaccinated rather than on all.’ On July 12, Emmanuel Macron announced a series of measures to counter the rapid progression of the Delta variant. This health bill, which must be voted this week by Parliament, includes compulsory vaccination for professions in contact with vulnerable people, but also the extension of the health pass to many public places, as well as the introduction of the mandatory quarantine for infected people. These are all measures which represent a major turning point in French health policy and spark heated debate in France.

Ideological debate

Anxious to preserve the restart of the French economy, the government is now advocating strong action to avoid further confinement. An approach approved by a majority of French people according to several polls, such as that ofthe Ipsos-Sopra Steria institutewho estimates that 62% of the population is in favor of using the health pass to enter a public place. However, while the French had so far been rather wise vis-à-vis the health policy of the government, tens of thousands of demonstrators – 114,000 according to the Ministry of the Interior – beat the pavement on Saturday July 17 across the country, in the name of the defense of individual freedoms against the ‘dictatorship’ of the health pass.

Gatherings joined by ‘anti-vaccines’ but also thousands of demonstrators who came to express their anger at the turning point in French health policy. ‘We must stop the government of lies‘, denounced Monday Florian Philippot, former member of the National Rally now at the head of his movement Les Patriotes, likening the government’s policy to a barely disguised vaccine obligation. To promote vaccination, the government has announced that it will pay for so-called ‘comfort’ tests in the fall. However, the executive rejects any accusation of authoritarian drift: on the contrary we seek to ‘encroach as little as possible on the freedoms of the French,’ said Monday.government spokesperson Gabriel Attal, deeming the new measures essential to counter the ‘stratospheric’ resumption of the Covid-19 epidemic.

A discriminatory bill?

While the use of the health pass was initially to be limited to attendance at large gatherings of more than 1,000 people and allow free travel in Europe, the government now wants to extend it to many activities of daily living. From Wednesday, it must become mandatory in all places of leisure and culture bringing together more than 50 people, before being extended in early August to cafes, restaurants, certain shopping centers, hospitals and retirement homes or even to all. long-distance journeys by plane, train or coach.

Deeming this measure discriminatory, several operators of cinemas, producers and distributors announced that they had seized the Council of State. ‘The signatory organizations ask the judge to postpone the implementation of the sanitary pass by aligning at least the date and the terms of this measure for all sectors welcoming the public’, we can read in the press release dated July 16. The nine signatory associations judge in particular that this measure with ‘almost immediate effect’ does not allow ‘to anticipate the situation’ and ‘strongly weakens the whole sector’. Criticisms that the Minister of the Economy, Bruno Le Maire, tried to defuse in the JDD on July 18: ‘The health pass should not affect the turnover of the sectors concerned, which we also continue to support throughout the summer thanks to the solidarity fund. ‘ Launched in March 2020 by the government to keep companies particularly affected by Covid-19 afloat, this aid has since been extended until August 16.

The puzzle of controls

Finally, some uncertainty remains as to the application of control measures to ensure proper compliance with these new rules. The draft law stipulated that the operators of places or establishments, the organizers of events as well as the operators of transport services were required to control the health passes under penalty of a fine of 45,000 euros and a year of imprisonment. A rule challenged byMinister Bruno Le Maire Monday on France 2: ‘You always need sanctions when there are rules, otherwise they are not effective. But these penalties must be proportionate, (…) 45,000 euros that seems excessive to me. ‘

At the end of the Council of Ministers on Monday, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said: ‘We have entered a fourth wave’ and ‘we must do everything possible (…) so that this wave is not also more devastating ‘, while’ vaccination coverage remains insufficient ‘in France. Finally, the contravention, in the event of a first breach of the obligation to control the health pass, may go ‘up to 1,500 euros’, which is much less than the fine of 9,000 euros initially envisaged but retoked by the Board of state. Gabriel Attal tried to reassure companies, promising that there would be ‘flexibility and that we will be more in the support than in the sanction (…) the first days’, while specifying that those who’ do not want not apply the rules’ will have to bear the consequences.

Contacted by France 24 two days before the implementation of controls in cinemas, Marc-Olivier Sebbag, deputy general delegate of the National Federation of French cinemas, is puzzled: ‘In addition to the problem of the cost of these measures which are at the expense of companies, these new laws pose a real problem of responsibility: if control is in place but it is not optimal and people manage to enter, who is responsible? How will the small structures that cannot hire staff to carry out these checks be organized? Employees would be entitled to refuse this additional task which does not correspond to their attributions … On these aspects, we expect clear answers from the government. ‘

In addition to the extension of the health pass, the government has announced a mandatory 10-day quarantine for people infected with Covid-19, which provides for an exit permit only from 10 a.m. to 12 p.m. This confinement, which until now was a recommendation, also raises questions about controls. ‘We do not have many police officers available to carry out this mission which is absolutely not in our core business,’ warnedWednesday on franceinfoStanislas Gaudon, general delegate of the Alliance police union, while the government wants to impose police and gendarmerie checks.

Despite opposition from rebellious France and the Rassemblement National, the principles of the health bill received fairly broad approval from MPs. After its adoption Monday by the Council of Ministers, the text will be examined in the National Assembly and then in the Senate in the coming days, with a view to final adoption by the weekend.