PARIS – As Europe and the United States strive to strike an appropriate balance between limiting the Delta variant of the coronavirus and limiting personal freedom, President Emmanuel Macron has paved the way on a narrow path combining a limited constraint to be vaccinated with generalized coercion.
Its approach of ordering health workers to be vaccinated by September 15 and telling the rest of the French population that they will be denied access to most indoor public places if they are not vaccinated or without testing negative by Aug. 1, prompted other countries, including Italy to follow suit, although it has sparked pockets of deep resistance.
“You are creating a society of generalized control for months, maybe years,” Eric Coquerel, a member of the far-left France Unbowed party, said during a tumultuous 48-hour parliamentary debate on M’s measures. Macron who ended Friday morning with a relatively narrow victory for the president.
Going beyond 1,200 proposed amendments, defying accusations of authoritarianism and chaos from the harsh right and left, the lower house voted by 117 votes to 86 to support President Macron’s attempt to force the French to be vaccinated in Making their lives miserable if they don’t. .
Europe’s problem is similar to that of the United States: vaccination levels which, at around or just under 60 percent, are insufficient for herd immunity; the surge in cases of the Delta variant; and growing divisions over the extent to which getting an injection can be mandated.
But where the United States has generally not gone beyond hospitals and major healthcare systems requiring employees to be vaccinated against Covid-19, major European economies, including France and Italy, are falling apart. bring closer to the need to make vaccines compulsory for all.
Mr Macron’s measures, announced on July 12 as the only way to avoid further French lockdown, sparked both protests and an extraordinary increase in vaccinations, with 3.7 million bookings in the first week after the president’s intervention, and a record of nearly 900,000 vaccinations. in one day on July 19. In this sense, his daring approach was a success.
As the peak summer vacation season rolls in, the French have overreacted to the specter of their leisure options being canceled.
Mario Draghi, the Italian Prime Minister, followed the French example. He did not insist in announcing similar measures this week. “The call not to get vaccinated is a call to die,” he said. Resistance to vaccination could also kill other people, he noted.
But the extent of the European delay towards compulsory measures has also raised unease and questions about the loss of freedom.
Claire HÃ©don, the French government-appointed human rights mediator, known as the defender of rights, warned this week that Parliament was acting with unjustifiable haste “given the scale of the blow to human rights and fundamental freedoms which is provided â.
Among the most disturbing measures, she said, was the granting to “public and private enterprise of some kind of policing power”.
She did not address the question of whether French freedoms include the freedom to endanger other people.
The so-called “health law” would oblige the French to obtain a health pass – known in Italy as the “green pass” – certifying that they have been vaccinated against Covid-19, or recently tested negative, if they are they want to go to restaurants and cafes.
These establishments, many of which protested, would then be required to enforce the rule or be fined. However, they will not have the power to require photo identification from potential guests in order to match them with the health pass. It is a right still limited to the police, the government said.
The French bill will now go to the Senate, with a view to final adoption within a week and implementation from the beginning of next month.
The provision making vaccination compulsory for health workers aroused particular fury in the National Assembly. “You have gone completely crazy,” said Julien Aubert, a member of the center-right Les RÃ©publicains party.
The idea of ââdismissing or not paying a worker for having chosen not to be vaccinated is far from normal French labor practice, which tends to make dismissal very difficult. Any attempt would certainly face legal challenges.
Olivier VÃ©ran, the Minister of Health, photographed in Le Monde with his head slumped on a desk during the marathon debate, replied that âthe spirit of this text is certainly not to fire people or to force them to resign, it is to encourage vaccination. “
In France, 22,000 cases of coronavirus have been recorded over a 24-hour period this week, the highest rate in more than two months. But in Britain, with twice as many new infections in recent days, the approach has been radically different.
Boris Johnson’s Conservative government declared ‘Freedom Day’ this week, removing many Covid-19 restrictions. The Prime Minister is betting that with 68.4% of the population vaccinated at least once, Britain is ready to try its luck with a virus that appears to be here to stay.
The United States has Florida, where no business or government entity can deny service to the unvaccinated, and San Francisco, where all city workers must now be vaccinated, at opposite poles of the mandatory vaccine debate. Europe has London and Paris.
Understanding the state of vaccination mandates in the United States
Since President Macron unveiled his strategy two weeks ago, some vaccination centers have been ransacked. Protests have unfolded across France with the same kind of anti-elite and anti-big business themes that characterized the yellow vests movement that began in 2018.
As in the United States, some French people see manipulation and lies in the vaccination campaign – and for that matter in the very way the coronavirus is portrayed as a deadly threat – where most see common sense and responsibility social.
“There is a continuity between the yellow vests and the anti-passe-santÃ© movement,” said Sophie Tissier, a member of the two and a former independent technician for a television channel. âThey contest the functioning of an undemocratic political system in France.
She continued, âIf you are in the political opposition here, you are accused of being a conspiracy theorist. I am absolutely not that. I’m just asking questions. We are witnessing a dictatorial drift.
On both sides of the debate, positions are hardening and rhetoric is unleashed. In Italy, Matteo Salvini, the leader of the ruling Coalition Nationalist League party, suggested that requiring vaccination would deprive âat least half of the population of their right to lifeâ.
He did not develop. Several opinion polls have shown that 70% of Italians are in favor of the type of restrictions imposed by France, and 40 million Italians, or two-thirds of the population, have already downloaded the green pass.
“I propose to raise money to pay for Netflix anti-vaccine subscriptions when they are under house arrest, locked in their homes like mice,” Roberto Burioni, a leading Italian virologist, wrote on Twitter.
In France, more demonstrations are planned for the weekend, and it seems possible that the summer will not see the usual respite from political turmoil. The leaders of the far right and far left – Marine Le Pen and Jean-Luc MÃ©lenchon – have already made it clear that they see a political opportunity in the vaccine debate.
Hugues Debotte, an unemployed leader and yellow vests protester, said Mr. Macron should be thanked for a decision which “mobilized hundreds of thousands of people”.
“The issue is not the vaccination,” he said in an interview. âIt forces us to do something that I don’t want to do. I prefer to say ‘No’ and keep my freedom.
Mr. Debotte is busy organizing resistance through various online networks. “We are in a soft dictatorship, and the oligarchs take us for idiots,” he said. âThere is no longer a pandemic today. We know that. We are not stupid.
Governments and health experts disagree, and it is clear that Mr Macron will not give in. Mr. VÃ©ran, the Minister of Health, said: âWe have two choices. Pass the pass quickly, very quickly, or expose yourself to the risk of another national confinement. “