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PARIS – The summer has been trying for senior French government officials. Would Emmanuel Macron’s controversial decision to force people to carry vaccination passports if they wanted to visit anywhere from a bar to a museum turn around and fuel the country’s protest movement?
Every week, officials at the Elysee Palace and the Prime Minister’s office eagerly awaited figures on the scale of the protests. Now, as the country nears its goal of giving 50 million people at least one shot by the end of August, many of these officials breathe a sigh of relief.
“We welcome ourselves, even though we know that we have not yet achieved completely satisfactory results,” said a government adviser. “Macron made a firm decision, and the French gave him their vote of confidence. Protests remained marginal.”
Macron’s decision to bring the vaccine passport on the eve of the summer vacation was a jaw-dropping fall.
The COVID immunity pass – a digital or paper certificate that contains proof of vaccination, immunity, or a negative test – is required to enter cafes, bars, restaurants, hospitals, museums, galleries, and in trains, planes and coaches. On Monday, the program was extended to employees at all locations open to the public.
Although there was some dilution of the plans early on – waiters were told they wouldn’t have to check IDs as well as vaccine certificates, and most malls would be exempt – the government stood firm.
A lot of people weren’t happy. Every week, demonstrators take to the streets of Paris, Marseille and other cities, for various reasons. Some are anti-vax, others say they are pro-freedoms and then there are those who are just fed up with Macron. But the numbers have not taken off. Last weekend, about 160,000 people took to the streets, against 175,000 the previous week and 215,000 in mid-August, according to figures from the Interior Ministry.
The first comparisons to the Yellow Jackets movement that rocked the president in 2018 and 2019 have turned out to be wrong. Macron’s rivals haven’t capitalized on the discontent either, with far-right leader Marine Le Pen reluctant to upset her voters, who are divided over the pass, and the Socialists clumsily backing the mandatory jabs but not the pass.
Meanwhile, millions of people have made their way to vaccination centers. According to the French Prime Minister’s office, 12 million people have been vaccinated since Macron announced the introduction of the coronavirus passport.
“The best moment of his management of the crisis”
Many doctors believe the coronavirus passport flattened the curve of the pandemic this summer, just as France was facing a steep third wave fueled by the more contagious Delta variant and the lifting of lockdown measures.
“It saved tens of thousands of lives,” said Martin Blachier, public health consultant. “The French were reluctant [to get the jab] and he crafted a message that was heard. It was the best moment of his handling of the crisis, perhaps even of his tenure. “
The numbers to date look promising. Some 83 percent of the French population over the age of 12 have received at least one dose of the vaccine, according to France’s COVID tracker. The number of daily cases has fallen to less than 14,000, after peaking at around 24,000 in mid-August. The number of intensive care patients increased in August but appears to stabilize at less than 3,000.
A resumption of the epidemic is expected with the return of pupils and pupils to classrooms in September, but “the risk of a cataclysm has been avoided,” said Blachier. According to him, if the vaccination rate had remained at the same level before the summer – when less than 50 percent of the population had received a first dose – there would have been many more admissions to hospitals, which would have meant overcrowded rooms and no more dead.
But others are not so enthusiastic about the pass.
“It is difficult to know what impact this had,” said Nicolas Bruder, head of an intensive care unit at the Timone hospital in Marseille. “If you look at the map of France, the cases have increased where there have been large gatherings in tourist areas. [despite the pass]. “
But in his hospital, the introduction of the pass – along with the announcement that the vaccine would be mandatory for health workers – has boosted vaccination rates. More than 70 percent of its staff are vaccinated, up from more than 50 percent in June.
And that’s the point. Supporters say the health pass has worked because people have responded by getting vaccinated, which protects them from developing serious illnesses even if they contract the virus.
“The pass creates a false sense of security because it brings together people who have been vaccinated, and therefore likely to transmit the disease, and people who have tested negative,” said Blachier. “If people had reacted by getting tested every other day, the pass would have had the opposite effect, accelerating the epidemic and resulting in many more deaths. “
But they didn’t. “It was a political gesture, a means to achieve an end. Some wanted to introduce mandatory jabs, but the question was how to get there, ”said the government adviser.
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