France took a big step Monday into a postpandemic future by requiring people to show a QR code proving they have a special virus pass before they can enjoy restaurants and cafés or travel by plane, train, or bus across the country.
The measure is part of a government plan to encourage more people to get a COVID-19 vaccine shot and slow down a surge in infections, as the highly contagious Delta variant now accounts for most cases in France. Over 36 million people in France, or more than 54 percent of the population, are fully vaccinated.
The special pass is issued to people who are vaccinated against COVID-19, or have proof of a recent recovery from the virus, or have a recent negative test. The measure also applies to tourists visiting the country.
In the southern city of Marseille, several restaurant owners did not check clients for the pass, an Associated Press reporter saw Monday. Many in the entertainment business are annoyed that the government is foisting such a job on them.
The owner of the Backstage restaurant and bar in a theater district on Paris’s Left Bank said the checks made him feel like a police officer but he still followed government orders.
“This involves putting on another cap,” said Pierre Arnoux. “We have to ask the client if—yes or no—they are validated to have a drink at my restaurant. This is rather unusual. I must admit this isn’t for me.”
Arnoux said the crowd was light on Monday and clients were cooperative but the requirement was onerous.
One client, Myriam Karmasine, said she was prepared and it “posed no problem,” and another, Sonia Hamiche, said she was not bothered, either.
“But I’ve observed that there are less people outside today compared to normal on the streets and on the terraces,” Hamiche said. “I think this must have stopped certain people.”
People without a pass where it is required risk a fine of 135 euros (US$158). The French government said for the first week of implementation, police controls will not lead to sanctions for noncompliance but instead will be an occasion to explain the law.
In hospitals, visitors and patients who have appointments are required to have the pass. Exceptions are made for people at the emergency ward.
The pass is now required on high-speed, intercity, and night trains, which carry over 400,000 passengers per day in France, Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari said Monday. It is also required on long-distance travels by plane or bus.
“We’re going to enforce massive controls,” Djebbari said.
Meanwhile, the Paris Saint-Germain soccer club will be allowed a capacity crowd for its first home game of the season against Strasbourg in the French league on Saturday. PSG said the Paris prefecture has approved 49,700 fans at Parc des Princes stadium, with spectators expected to show their virus passes.
Polls show that most French support the health pass. Since President Emmanuel Macron announced the measure on July 12, at least 7 million people have received their first vaccine shot.
Yet the measure has prompted strong opposition from some people who say it compromises their freedoms by limiting movements outside the home. On Saturday, thousands of demonstrators marched in Paris and other French cities for a fourth consecutive week of protests against the measure.
The virus pass has already been in place since last month for cultural and recreational venues including cinemas, concert halls, sports arenas, and theme parks. The law also requires French health care workers to be vaccinated against the virus by September 15.
With reporting from Patrick Hermansen in Paris and Associated Press journalist Daniel Cole in Marseille.