France’s top constitutional authority on Thursday approved a Covid pass that limits access to cafes, restaurants, and inter-city trains and planes to people who have been vaccinated or tested negative for the virus.
The controversial pass, which will become ubiquitous from Monday, drew several hundred protesters outside the Council of State in Paris.
“All this undermines fundamental freedoms… Freedom is, first of all, the choice to be vaccinated or not,” said Marie Jose Libeiro, 48.
“We are falling into an authoritarian state.”
But the Constitutional Court said the restrictions put forward by President Emmanuel Macron and approved by parliament last month represented a “balanced trade-off” between public health concerns and personal freedom.
Prime Minister Jean Castex welcomed the court ruling, saying it “will allow the full deployment of our battle strategy against Covid-19”.
The biggest change concerns restaurants which will now have to turn away patrons who fail to produce the health pass.
– ‘Not police‘ –
“There will be a cost, in terms of time spent checking the pass, and in terms of sales because we will lose customers,” Herve Becam, vice president of the UMIH hotels and restaurants association, told AFP.
Cyril Wafik, manager of the Indiana Cafe in central Paris, said the pass presented yet another challenge for many restaurant owners who were already having trouble getting customers to wear masks.
“We’re not police, that’s not our job,” he told AFP. “This will affect our relationship with our customers.”
Visitors to some shopping centres and department stores will also need the pass, as will visitors to hospitals or care homes and people seeking non-urgent medical care.
But the absence of a health pass must not be an obstacle to patients receiving treatment, the court ruled.
Health workers and others whose job requires them to be in contact with people at risk of Covid must now get vaccinated by law.
But the court rejected as “disproportionate” the government’s wish to force people with Covid infections into isolation for 10 days.
The court’s judges also struck down another provision included in the health law that brought in the Covid pass, which would allow employers to dismiss people on fixed-term or temporary contracts if they don’t have a pass.
The court said this was unfair treatment as employees on open-ended contracts could not be sacked for the same reason.
Staff can, however, be suspended from work without pay if they lack a pass if the nature of their job demands it because, for instance, it brings them into contact with the public.
The health pass will come into force for children aged 12 to 17 on September 30.
Protests against the health pass assembled around 200,000 people across France on Saturday, and organisers have called for more demonstrations this weekend.
Protesters in Paris on Thursday chanted slogans “liberty, liberty” and “Macron, we don’t want your pass.”
There were also protests in Marseille, where several dozen demonstrated in front of the University Hospital Institute against the mandatory vaccination of hospital staff, according to an AFP journalist at the scene.
According to a Montaigne opinion poll this week, 37 percent of French people sympathise with the demonstrations and 48 percent are against.
Some 60 percent approve mandatory vaccinations.
More than 8,000 people are currently being treated for Covid in French hospitals, with about 1,400 in intensive care, the health authorities reported on Wednesday.
Just under 29,000 new cases were reported in the previous 24 hours.
Some 54 percent of the French population are now fully vaccinated.