France enforces 'vaccine pass' for leisure and travel
New rules came into force in France on Monday requiring people to be vaccinated against COVID-19 to enter bars, restaurants, trains and planes, after a fierce fight over the details of the law in parliament, AFP reports.
A negative coronavirus test will no longer be enough to access leisure activities, some work events and long-distance travel.
The pass would "protect all those who host the public because it prevents infections and allows them to stay open," Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire told Franceinfo radio.
"Individual responsibility is the best protection against the virus," he added.
France is currently recording the highest daily infection rates of any major European country, with an average of 360,000 over the past week.
But outrage at President Emmanuel Macron's declaration early this month that he wanted to "piss off" the unvaccinated with restrictions until they accepted a shot slowed the vaccine pass law's passage through parliament.
The government had originally wanted to apply it starting Jan. 15.
Around 40,000 people turned out for anti-pass demonstrations this weekend, according to interior ministry figures, down roughly 25% from the previous week.
"The more coercion is applied to my body, my freedom, the more my decision (not to be vaccinated) will be strengthened," an education worker who gave her name as Laurence told Agence France-Presse (AFP) at one march.
Opponents from left and right had criticized the bill as a new assault on civil liberties, especially a provision allowing bar or restaurant staff to check customers' identity documents to make sure they match the pass.
"We're used to quickly checking people's passes as they come in. The staff has got the knack, and there's never been any problems," said Alain Deriot, manager of the Jour de Peche restaurant in northeastern city Lille.
"But I don't see myself doing identity checks, it's intrusive ... we prefer to trust our customers," he added.
How France emerges from the current wave sparked by the omicron variant is seen as crucial in April presidential elections, where Macron is widely expected to stand although he has yet to declare his candidacy.
Despite the high levels of cases, Prime Minister Jean Castex last week announced a timetable for lifting COVID-19 restrictions in France starting on Feb. 2.