New COVID-19 rules spark France vaccination rush

Paris: A record number of French people have been booking appointments for COVID-19 jabs after President Emmanuel Macron announced restrictions on the unvaccinated, including mandatory tests to enter restaurants.

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The head of the Doctolib website, the main site to book vaccination appointments, said traffic was at an all-time high following Macron’s televised speech on Monday night.

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“We recorded 20,000 appointments per minute, an absolute record since the start of the campaign, and it’s continued during the night and into this morning,” boss Stanislas Niox-Chateau told BFMTV.

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A total of 926,000 people had booked a jab, with 65 percent of them under 35, he added.

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Macron said anyone wanting to go out to eat or drink, take a long-distance train or visit a shopping centre would need to show a “health pass”, which means either proof of vaccination or a negative test.

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The pass will also be needed to attend a festival, a theatre show or a cinema screening as part of the government’s strategy to tackle the surging number of new cases linked to the Delta variant.

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Free COVID-19 tests will end in September “to encourage vaccination instead of taking many tests”, Macron added in the speech watched by 22 million people.

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The head of state also announced mandatory vaccinations for healthcare staff, retirement home workers and others working with vulnerable people from September in line with similar moves in Greece, Italy and Britain.

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Faced with criticism on social media that the government was forcing people to get vaccinated against their wishes, Health Minister Olivier Veran said the health pass was “not a sanction, it’s not blackmail”.

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He said the country was far from a situation where the general population was being told to get vaccinated.

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“The health pass makes your life easier,” he said, adding: “We want to avoid a lockdown at all costs.”

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The number of new cases has been rising sharply in France, to more than 4,000 cases in recent days because of the more infectious Delta variant.

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Around 35.5 million people – just over half of France’s population – have received at least one vaccine dose so far, but the rate of injections has slowed in recent weeks.

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At the start of the pandemic, France had some of the highest levels of vaccine scepticism in the developed world.

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