Members of parliament attend a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly, the lower house of the French parliament, in Paris, France, on January 4, 2022. (Photo by AFP)
Franceís parliament has approved President Emmanuel Macronís plans for a "vaccine pass" to help curb the spread of the Omicron variant of the coronavirus after three days of tumultuous debates, which were sparked by Macronís comment that he wants to "annoy" the unvaccinated.
The bill passed on Thursday in the parliament with 214 votes against 93, and 27 abstentions, after an all-night session. It still needs to pass the Senate, which is due to review it early next week. Macronís government wants the new measures to take effect on January 15, but implementation will likely be delayed as the debate was held up in the Assembly.
The legislation came amid a storm of controversy after Macron told Le Parisien newspaper earlier this week that he wanted to make the lives of those refusing the COVID-19 vaccine so complicated by squeezing them out of public places that they would end up getting jabbed. Macron said nearly 90 percent of the French population had already been vaccinated and thus were eligible for the health pass. He said it was "only a very small minority who are resisting. How do we reduce that minority? We reduce it - sorry for the expression - by annoying them even more."
Macronís coarse language barely three months before a presidential election was widely seen as politically-calculated, tapping into an intensifying public frustration against the unvaccinated.
Polls, meanwhile, indicate that a large majority of French voters are growing evermore frustrated with the pandemic and back the vaccine pass as an effective means to end it, and of those who oppose it, very few are likely to cast their ballot for Macron.
Under the bill, people over 16 - and not over 12 as the government had initially sought - will be required to show proof of being vaccinated to access restaurants and bars, cultural venues, or inter-regional public transport. A negative COVID-19 test will no longer be sufficient, except for access to health facilities and services.
In recent months, France has seen weekly street protests against virus-related restrictions and vaccine requirements.
France reported a record 332,252 virus cases on Thursday as Omicron infections rage across the country, burdening hospital staff and threatening to disrupt transportation, schools, and other services.
More than 20,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in France, a number that has been rising steadily for weeks but not as sharply as the countryís infection rates.
COVID-19 patients fill more than 72% of Franceís ICU beds, and its once-renowned health care system is again showing signs of strain.