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OPINION & ANALYSIS

OPINION: Macron’s health passport is an unsung triumph for France

President Emmanuel Macron’s decision to deprive the unvaccinated of fun and long-distance travel has been a triumph – but a largely unsung triumph, writes John Lichfield.

OPINION: Macron's health passport is an unsung triumph for France
Emmanuel Macron has received few garlands for his decision to push the health passport. Photo: Ludovic Marin/AFP

Yes, street protests against the “health pass” persist and grow. Yes, they are continuing in the month of August, traditionally a political no-go-zone.

No, they should not be dismissed, even though three-quarters of the protesters are the usual anti-Macrons and anti-everythings.

READ ALSO Protests over the health passport will continue, but this is not a new ‘yellow vest’ moment 

Demonstrations are ongoing, with more planned for Saturday. Photo by Alain JOCARD / AFP

Let us recall, however, why Macron felt obliged to swallow his words and ask parliament to extend the health pass to restaurants, bars, cafés and long-distance trains and buses almost one month ago.

When he made the announcement on July 12th, the French vaccination programme was flagging. After a slow start and a booming spring and early-summer, first-vaccinations had slumped to less than 170,000 a day.

The fourth “Delta” wave of Covid-19 threatened to cut a swathe through the unvaxxed part of the French population.

The real reason for imposing the health pass was not to “segregate” the vaccinated from the unvaccinated for health reasons. The real reason was not to slow the spread of the Delta variant by making restaurants and bars off-limits to the vax-shy, vax-lazy or vax-resistant.

The health-pass was imposed to re-boot the French vaccine programme. The intention was to jog, force or coerce people to get vaccinated –  to make vaccination not exactly compulsory but essential if you wanted to lead a normal life.

EXPLAINED When and where you need a health passport in France

Let’s leave aside for a moment the political, moral or philosophical arguments against this decision.

In terms of its intended consequences, the health-pass has been an enormous success. Long before it took effect on Monday French people had flocked to vaccination centres or pharmacies or doctors’ surgeries.

Since Macron’s TV address which announced the extension of the pass on July 12th, over 9 million people – 9,345,380 as of Tuesday night – had received first injections against Covid-19. This is an average of 322,275  a day, almost double the rate before Macron spoke.

The daily rate of first doses has slumped again in the last week but is still averaging 280,000 a day. France, as of last night, had first-vaxxed 45,289,566 people over the age of 12  – around 78 percent of adolescents and adults. If you exclude the 12 to 17 year olds, the first-vax rate for French adults is now almost 81 percent.

At the present rate of progress, France will overtake the UK total of first vaccinations in about one week’s time.

The population of the two countries is almost identical at about 67 million.

The UK has given first doses to 47,091,889 people but that is now increasing at a rate of only 32,500 a day. The French total is rising by nine times that daily rate – and  is forecast to increase again from next Monday by  Doctolib, the medical booking site.

I got in trouble with British vaccine nationalists when I first pointed a couple of weeks ago that the French first-vax total was on course to overtake the UK by mid-August. In fact, several other EU countries have since already overtaken Britain in terms of jabs-per-thousand people.

My intention is not to denigrate the UK vax programme which was wonderful in its early months. Britain is still reaping the benefits of having vaccinated so many people so quickly, even if the daily first dose rate has now slowed to a trickle with around one third of British 18-29’s still unvaccinated.

(The French total, it is true, also includes 12 to 17 year olds. But why have adolescents been left unprotected in the UK for so long?)

My reason for making the comparison with the UK are twofold. First to counter the exaggerated attacks on the French and EU vax roll-outs in the UK media earlier this year. Secondly, to demonstrate the “success” of the French health pass.

Most domestic media commentary in France has focused on the Saturday protests. The impact of the health pass  on the vax programme – and the impact of the vax programme on the Covid pandemic – has not been entirely ignored. But its triumphs have been pushed into the background.

The Delta wave is now upon us. The number of cases may already have crested. But acute cases and deaths are still rising sharply. Over 80 percent of the more than 1,500 people now in acute care are unvaccinated.

Two maps published in recent days are worth considering side-by-side. The first (on the left, with the highest incidence rates in purple) by independent website Covidtracker, shows the current incidence rate for the Delta wave, département by département. The second (on the right with the lowest vaccination rates in red), based on a  study for the French health insurance system, shows where the rates of  vaccination in France are highest and lowest.

The match between high-incidence and low-vaccinaton  – all along the Mediterranean coast, in the poorer Paris and Lyon suburbs, in parts of the south west  and a few islands elsewhere – is not exact but it is striking.

Whatever the Saturday marchers may say, vaccination works

Macron made a politically dangerous decision to revive the French vax programme. He may or may not pay a political price for that decision in the presidential elections next April.

He may also benefit. Over 60 percent of French people tell pollsters that they approve of the health pass.

France could reach, on present trends,  90 percent or so of first vaccinated adults by mid-September. If the Delta wave has passed by then, Macron could abandon the health pass (always meant to be short-lived) and announce that it has been a huge success.

What can be stated confidently is that the health pass – and therefore Macron – have already saved many hundreds of French lives.

Member comments

  1. Very good article. Thanks for you forthright clarity and analysis. I especially like:

    “The real reason was not to slow the spread of the Delta variant by making restaurants and bars off-limits to the vax-shy, vax-lazy or vax-resistant.

    “The health-pass was imposed to re-boot the French vaccine programme. The intention was to jog, force or coerce people to get vaccinated – to make vaccination not exactly compulsory but essential if you wanted to lead a normal life.”

  2. Maybe and probably thousands of lives were saved. This is an incredible achievement and I applaud the government’s effort on this. Can you imagine such a thing happening in the USA with the stupidity of the right wing anti vaccine element there.

  3. As a faithful client of The Local I would like to see a little more balance in reporting the issue of the Passe Sanitaire: this is an extreme measure which discriminates against people on the basis of disclosure of private health information and puts in place a tracking system to rival China. Whatever the perceived advantages of such a campaign of manipulation of the populous, it is setting an alarming precedent in terms of human rights and basic equality and freedom. I am not happy to join in a good chortle denigrating ‘stupid’ people, it is a delicate issue and individuals can have personal and painful reasons for making choices about health including this type of vaccine for this type of disease. It is very clearly possible to contract and transmit Delta variant with the existing vaccines (more figures will no doubt emerge in time but a vaccinated person who contracts Delta is just as contagious as an unvaccinated one). It is clearly not a black and white medical or moral issue. None of us can rest easy on the moral high ground of the café terrace knowing we never, wittingly or unwittingly, harm another person through our behaviour choices or allow ourselves to grow smug in the knowledge that all the ‘bad stuff’ is the fault if the other people, the ones we think are stupid. As I say looking forward to more balance, more sensitivity and more kindness too 🙂

    1. I have the app and my pass sanitaire. What kind of « private health information «  does it contain other than my vaccination track record ?
      I don’t need more balance or kindness that the author shows in his article. Maybe the criticism should be directed towards the like of the Telegraph or similar publications in Uk and France.. Well done the macron government and the health care pros.

      1. Hallo, thank you for replying to my comment, I can see you have not been touched by anything I say and feel comfortable with your own opinion. My point was about a call for balance surrounding this extremely significant event we are going through in France, and I would like now to add a call for journalists to walk alongside the people who demonstrate against’ a health dictatorship, to try to understand why so many French people, of all ages, politically defined in different ways or not at all, in the country of Liberté Fraternité and Équalité, are walking together chanting ‘Liberté’. Why do they feel so strongly about something that seems to you sensible and unproblematic , even laudable? I would like journalism to allow us as readers to challenge our opinions and invite us to deepen and widen our understanding, to stimulate debate and further inquiry. This is especially important for us as expats as we are bound we can’t help but view things through the lens of our own culture and native countries. I really do appreciate the condensing of news relevant to expats that The Local offers, but on an issue like this I am looking for more depth and balance than the practical implications for me and my expat friends,

        1. Cathy, you are speaking of balance, and Liberté, where the reality is far more simple: will it be 120 000 dead, or 130 000, or 150 000, or 180 000, or … . What is your prefered number? Is this the time you want to shout Liberté? Vaccination in this situation is not a matter of individual choice, it is a matter of common interests of long term health for many thousands of people and of survival for some, and getting to a more or less normal life for all of us. I have no understanding or even interest in understanding for those who do not consider that but go out in the street and shout ther Liberté. No room for such sensitivies in this case.

          1. Hallo kasza.artur
            First of all please avoid personal accusations about my having a ‘preferred number ‘ of people I want to see dead, I don’t want anyone to suffer or die from this disease, I did not bring it into the world, nothing in my comments merits such a personal accusation, I asked only for more balance in reporting. The idea is that IF as a reader you hear many viewpoints THEN you can make up your mind on the issue. So under your argument would you be ok about being forced into other behaviours for the ‘common interests of long-term health for many thousands of people and of survival for some’. Let”s take pollution for example, killing hundreds of thousands of people per year in our own back yard. Happy that the Government removes your car/vehicles and makes you walk? Now what about poverty, inequality, exploitation, lack of education and fresh water, starvation, war…shouldn’t you be forced to give up a percentage of your bank account for the common good? Would you be arguing you should lose your freedom over your money, your body, your possessions, and give it to the State or any other authority to decide what is good for for ‘everyone’ rather than what is good for you? Why are so so keen to do this with vaccines, and only vaccines, what is so special about the human body and confidential medical decisions in the case of vaccines that make it ‘not a matter of individual choice’ for you? Perhaps if you had been exposed to more balanced reporting you would be able to show some sensitivity to people who are not able to accept this vaccine, who see and foresee dangerous precedents in the behaviour of the Government, because you would actually have listened to people and their individual stories, and you would have understood that there are other dangers to human wellbeing than Covid, rather than reducing us all to statistics in a very black and white impoverished view that does not take into account the complex realities of this situation at all.

      2. The journalism we are experiencing during this covid-pandemic is often very one sided, showing how dependent the media is nowadays on being in line with Government, or journalists on being in line with their chief-editors. It’s scary. John Lichfield, as a journalist, should know and try better to stick to journalistic ethics of being somewhat neutral if not critical of what is going on. It’s downright fascism to be discriminating against people the way Governments are doing it right now and journalism should not be advocating this in any way!!!

  4. I have been critical of John Lichfield in the past but this is a decent article. The key figure to compare between nations is, of course, second vaccinations rather than first but I agree that Macron has made a good call. Vaccines save lives; lockdowns don’t – they merely stop transmission. So maybe Macron is making some ground towards redressing that terrible and tragically influential comment that the Astra Zeneca vaccine was “Quasi-ineffectual”. Now he knows that the promotion of vaccination is core to re-establishing ‘normal’ life and re-booting the economy, and is implementing policy accordingly. Good.

    1. Macron has been incredibly brave and courageous in essentially requiring everyone to get the vaccine. And unless you have some medical problems that prevents it, Getting the vaccine is a moral imperative. Individuals who do not get it are endangering others. I salute him and wish other world leaders were just as brave. Thank you for this excellent article.

      1. Other world leaders have not needed to coerce people into taking the vaccine because they didn’t undermine the vaccines in the first place.

  5. “If the Delta wave has passed by then, Macron could abandon the health pass (always meant to be short-lived) and announce that it has been a huge success.”

    From his profile picture I wouldn’t guess Mr. Lichfield was born yesterday, but his breathtaking naivete argues otherwise.

    1. “Abandonment”: The Health Pass requirements expire in November (15th, as I recall), unless extended by Parliament.
      “Success”: President Macron was very clear and explicit when the measures were announced, it was to increase the number of fully-vaccinated people. At the time, only around 40% were (fully-)vaccinated, and the vaccination rate was in free-fall. The very first week after the measures were announced, about 4m people registered to be vaccinated, and now about 60% are fully-vaccinated.

      1. Having not been born yesterday myself, I recall another occasion when Macron was very clear and explicit: “Je l’ai dit, je le répète : le vaccin ne sera pas obligatoire.”

        1. First, we would appreciate relevant comments, not stupid ones. Second, vacciantion is still not compulsory for people other than the medical staff.

  6. I consider The Local to do a good job in keeping its readers informed about everyday life for francophones in France and beyond. I assume this counts as “balanced” reporting. John L contributes to this from time to time e.g the day to day effects of the Brexit implementation (shortages in M&S stores!), or his experience of making a long journey in an EV.
    However his piece on President Macron and the vaccination campaign was clearly marked OPINION. This is standard newspaper practice and exposes readers to a deliberately biased point of view to either challenge or support different readers’ views.
    The best way to get a deep and wide range of views to provide the “balance “ you seek is probably to read Le Monde, Liberation, and Le Figaro.
    At least the opening comments from Cathy et al have got us all going on the topic which, in my view., was well spoken for by Lyn McBride. Thanks all 👏

  7. Suffering endless lawsuits, Guo Wengui faces his Black July
    The little tricks of New Gettr and Gclub cannot resist the judicatory storm

    Here comes the big news. The Cheater Guo claims that he will take nine times to testify and appear in the court more than a dozen times In the scorching July.

  8. What are the French rules for an American (me) or British (wife) passport holder who is fully vaccinated with an American CDC vaccination certificate, and is a legal resident of Germany? Can they visit France as a tourist? We are retirees living in Germany.

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OPINION & ANALYSIS

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Swedish police underestimated the level of violence that awaited them and should have called a halt to Danish-Swedish extremist Rasmus Paludan’s demos as soon as it became clear the riots were spiralling out of control, argues journalist Bilan Osman. 

‘Police should have stopped Koran-burning demos after the first day’

Speaking to The Local for the Sweden in Focus podcast, out this Saturday, Osman said she understood why the police had allowed the demonstrations to go ahead in the first place but that the safety of civilians and police officers should have taken precedence when the counter-demonstrations turned violent. 

“Just to be clear, I don’t think it’s an easy question. I think everyone, regardless of views or beliefs, should have the right to demonstrate,” said Osman, who writes for the left-wing Dagens ETC newspaper and previously lectured for the anti-racist Expo Foundation.

“I understand people who say that violence [from counter-demonstrators] shouldn’t be a reason to stop people from demonstrating. I truly believe that. But at the same time: was it worth it this time when it’s about people’s lives and safety?” 

Police revealed on Friday that at least 104 officers were injured in counter-demonstrations that they say were hijacked by criminal gangs intent on targeting the police. 

Forty people were arrested and police are continuing to investigate the violent riots for which they admitted they were unprepared. 

“I think the police honestly misjudged the situation. I understand why Paludan was allowed to demonstrate the first day. It’s not the first time he has burned the Koran in Sweden. When he burned the Koran in Rinkeby last year nothing happened. But this time it was chaos.” 

Osman noted that Rasmus Paludan did not even show up for a planned demonstration in her home city of Linköping – but the police were targeted anyway. 

“I know people who were terrified of going home. I know people who had rocks thrown in their direction, not to mention the people who worked that day, policemen and women who feared for their lives. So for the safety of civilians and the police the manifestations should have been stopped at that point. Instead it went on, not only for a second day but also a third day and a fourth day.” 

On the question of whether it was acceptable to burn Islam’s holy book, Osman said it depended on the context. 

“If you burn the Koran mainly to criticise religion, or even Islam, of course it should be accepted in a democracy. The state should not only allow these things, but also protect people that do so. 

“I do believe that. Even as a Muslim. That’s an important part of the freedom of speech. 

A previous recipient of an award from the Swedish Committee Against Antisemitism for her efforts to combat prejudice in society, Osman drew parallels with virulent anti-Semitism and said it was “terrifying” that Paludan was being treated by many as a free speech campaigner rather than a far-right extremist.  

“If you are a right-wing extremist that wants to ethnically cleanse, that wants to cleanse Muslims from Sweden, and therefore burn the Koran, it’s actually dumb to think that this is a question about freedom of speech. When Nazis burn everything Jewish it’s not a critique against Judaism, it’s anti-Semitism.” 

Anti-Muslim sentiment in Sweden tended to come in waves, Osman said, pointing to 9/11 and Anders Behring Brevik’s attacks in Norway as previous occasions when Islamophobia was rampant. Now the Easter riots had unleashed a new wave of hatred against Muslims that she described as “alarming” and the worst yet. 

“I do believe that we will find a way to coexist in our democracy. But we have to put in a lot work. And Muslims can’t do that work alone. We need allies in this.” 

Listen to more from Bilan Osman on the April 23rd episode of Sweden in Focus: Why Sweden experienced its worst riots in decades.

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