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Thursday, December 7, 2023

French bill could restrict freedom of movement over vaccination status during crises

A French government bill presented Monday that could restrict freedom of movement for unvaccinated people during a “sanitary state of emergency” is riling up opposition lawmakers even before it’s discussed in parliament.

The bill aims to create a framework for future health crises. It would give the prime minister exceptional powers in such an emergency, including restricting access to public transport and other public spaces for citizens who cannot present negative test results, or proof of vaccination or treatment.

The proposal is hotly contested in a country where many are hesitant about the coronavirus vaccine. It presents “a very grave risk of violating the most fundamental civil liberties,” centrist Senator Loïc Hervé said Tuesday, in a statement where he also announced his intention to get the jab.

“How incompetent can [the government] be when it presents on the sly … three days before Christmas, a bill with restrictive sanitary measures that would give it powers of vaccine blackmail?” asked conservative MP Fabien Di Filippo on Twitter.

National Rally leader Marine Le Pen called the measure “ludicrous” and “fatal to freedom.” Communist MP Pierre Dharréville tweeted an ironic “Merry Christmas!”

Coronavirus vaccination won’t be mandatory in France and the government says those parts of the bill relating to vaccination requirements are not meant to apply be during the COVID-19 crisis. “Using such a prerogative could, however, be particularly necessary in the face of an even more serious epidemic threat,” the government’s impact study reads.

The bill “can apply to … any other major sanitary event that could affect our country,” Health Minister Olivier Véran said Tuesday. “It’s a bill that’s meant to last for the years, the decades to come.”

Israel is already planning a “green passport” system exempting vaccinated citizens from pandemic restrictions. The idea is attracting widespread interest in France where COVID-19 vaccinations are due to start December 26. Center-right MP Valérie Six proposed such a passport last week, to allow vaccinated people access to theaters, restaurants, and other locations closed to the public.

Polls show France is one of the countries where vaccine hesitancy is most prevalent. Only 54 percent of the French population intend to get coronavirus jabs, according to an Ipsos study from last October.

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