Macron is in a hole of his own making
How dare Macron threaten his citizens with obligatory vaccinations for everyone after talking down the Astra Zeneca vaccine himself?
French soldiers marched up and down the Champ Elysées last Wednesday, as after 2020’s coronavirus hiatus, Bastille Day celebrations returned to Paris. But it seems the irony of celebrating the French Revolution and the freedom it symbolised was not lost on everyone, as thousands have taken to the streets to protest the “pass sanitaire” (health pass), or vaccine passport as we know it. An estimated 19,000 people protested across France, including in Paris, Marseille, Lyon and Toulouse, against the mandatory vaccination of healthcare workers and the expanded use of the health pass.
Last Monday, President Emmanuel Macron announced a number of new Covid measures that should concern anyone who cares about living in a free society. From September 15 healthcare workers and those working with the elderly or vulnerable will be obliged to have a Covid vaccine. Secondly, the health pass, already in use for large-scale events like concerts and sports matches, will be expanded to cover almost all of public life. From as early as Wednesday, people will have to show proof of either vaccination, a negative Covid test or recent recovery from the disease, before being granted entry into cinemas and theatres. From August, this will be expanded yet again to include everything from bars and cafes to long-distance train journeys. It has not gone down well: on Friday, two vaccination centres have been ransacked.
This is all to combat France’s fourth Covid wave. Case numbers are rising quickly and, with the more transmissible delta variant now the dominant strain in France, Macron fears a rise in hospitalisations.
In his speech last Monday, the president urged his fellow citizens to get the vaccination as “the only path back to a normal life”. Well perhaps Macron should have thought of that back in January, when he labelled the Oxford AstraZeneca vaccine “quasi-ineffective” just hours before it was approved for European use by the European Medicines Agency. He and his pal Angela Merkel made all kinds of doubtful noises about the AstraZeneca jab, encouraging an already dubious French public to shy away from getting a vaccine. This was beyond irresponsible, considering it was well known that the French in particular were sceptical about the Covid vaccine – an Ifop survey carried out in December found 61 per cent of French people did not want to take up a Covid vaccine.
France’s vaccine rollout too has been appalling. There was no contacting of vulnerable groups asking them to book their vaccines, or clear instructions on how to do so. People had to find out for themselves when they were eligible for a vaccine and then book through various websites. My Parisian parents-in-law – both in their 70s – did not receive their first jab until late March. By comparison, England was already offering vaccines to over-50s by the end of March. It’s no wonder France is still lagging in their vaccination numbers. And yet Macron had the audacity to threaten his citizens with obligatory vaccinations for everyone, before claiming that, for now, he was “making the choice to trust” – how generous. And how dare Macron scold the French people for the merde he finds himself in, when it is very much of his own making?
Leading by fear seems to have done the trick, however, and 3 million vaccine appointments have been booked since Monday’s announcement. But it’s hardly surprising when people face a complete shut-out from normal society if they cannot prove their vaccination status. As rumblings continue in the UK over introducing vaccine passports for pubs, restaurants and shops, it’s worth considering what it actually means. A vaccine-passport society is one where medical privacy is denied; it is a society in which there are two classes of citizen, the vaccinated and the unvaccinated; and it is a society in which your every movement outside of your home would be tracked by the state. To sum up, or as the French say, “ bref ”, it is not a free society.
That the leader of the country of “ liberté, égalité, fraternité ” should now resort to threats of state-mandated medical interventions and health-pass authoritarianism, the likes of which have never been seen in a democratic country, is utterly shameful.
One can only hope that the French rediscover the spirit of Bastille, reject Macron’s authoritarianism and reclaim their freedom. Me, I put my faith in the Parisian waiters. If Macron thinks even one of his capital’s famously disdainful serveurs will stop to ask a patron for health papers before snapping “ oui ?” at them for their order, then he’s truly one baguette short of a picnic.