With an agreement found after three days of debate in Congress, France entered this Monday morning (26) on the list of European countries which restrict activities for those who are not fully vaccinated against Covid-19 – or, in some case, for those who haven’t. at least one negative test for the coronavirus.
The restrictions, already adopted in Portugal, Italy, Greece, Malta and Denmark and some German states, among others, try to contain the advance of the delta variant, which has become predominant in Europe.
The mutant appears in 100% of sequencing performed in England, more than 90% in Spain, Portugal and Italy, 83% of German samples and 66% of French samples, according to data from this second.
The text approved Monday in France makes vaccination compulsory for health professionals – those who refuse will see their wages suspended.
It also requires a health certificate (full vaccination or negative test for coronavirus) to frequent bars, restaurants and other public places – companies that do not charge for the receipt may lose their business license.
Town halls will also be able to impose the requirement in shopping malls, and from September 30, the rule will apply even to teenagers between 12 and 17 years old.
The aim is to control transmission of the delta variant in two ways: by reducing contact and by encouraging vaccination, which has slowed in recent weeks due to lower uptake among young people and anti-vaccine activism. .
Even before being approved by Congress, the plan announced by Macron had already doubled the demand for vaccination, an effect that also occurred in Italy, where a similar measure was announced last week.
“The delta variant is even more threatening than the others, and without vaccines everything will have to close,” said Italian Prime Minister Mario Draghi, justifying the initiative.
According to researchers at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine, the mutant is around 60% more transmissible than the alpha variant, which, in turn, is 60% more transmissible than the original coronavirus, identified in China.
This means that while 10 people infected with the original virus could transmit it to 25 others, those who contract the delta variant can transmit it to more than 60 people, scientists say, with more than double the contagion capacity recorded in the country. departure. of the pandemic.
This is why governments want to encourage the vaccination of the youngest, precisely those who circulate the most and, therefore, accelerate transmission. They are also those who have completed the necessary doses of vaccine the least.
The percentage of complete vaccination in the 18-24 age group varies widely across Europe, according to the Center for Disease Control (ECDC). It reaches 70% in Denmark and Belgium, but only 12% in Portugal and 23% in Spain.
In France, 56% of young people in this range have taken all their doses, and it is precisely they who reject the restrictions imposed by the government the most.
According to a survey by the Ifop institute published this weekend, 51% of those under 35 (compared to 35% on average in France) supported the protests against the Macron plan, which attracted more than 160,000 people this weekend , according to the government.
In England, Prime Minister Boris Johnson last week raised the possibility of requesting proof of vaccination to enter nightclubs, but there was a reaction mainly from the Conservative Party, of which he is a member.
Italy, which has a similar percentage to the UK of fully vaccinated young people (56% among Italians, 58% among Brits), have not even reopened clubs.
According to Draghi’s new plan, from August 5, entry to stadiums, museums, theaters, cinemas, exhibition centers, swimming pools, gymnasiums and closed bars and restaurants will only be allowed with the “green pass” .
The government is expected to reassess a proposal in September to require the certificate to travel within the country, by train, plane or bus.
One of the populations hardest hit by the first wave of Covid, Italians have been less resistant to the new restrictions. This does not eliminate protests, especially from the far right.
Giorgia Meloni, leader of the Eurosceptic and anti-immigration Brotherhood of Italy party, accused Draghi of “burying the tourism industry”, and Matteo Salvini, leader of the nationalist La Liga (and now a member of the government), said that the pass made sense. in stadiums, but not in restaurants.
The ultra-right is also the most virulent anti-vaccination voice in France, especially in the campaigns of Florian Phillipot, former adviser to Marine Le Pen, leader of the National Meeting. In Germany, the fight against the vaccine is led by the AfD association (Alternative for Germany).
In the federation headed by Prime Minister Angela Merkel, this decision is usually taken at state level: some only require a vaccination certificate or a negative coronavirus test at the entrance of major events, while d others also restrict access to bars and restaurants.
But in Germany too, the question has taken on national political contours, a few weeks before the legislative elections which will define the next Prime Minister in September.
On Sunday (25), Helge Braun, chief of staff to Prime Minister Angela Merkel, added fuel to the fire by declaring that “if the incidence is high, unvaccinated people may have to reduce their contacts”.
According to him, this would mean that “access to places such as restaurants, cinemas or stadiums would no longer be possible for unvaccinated people, even with a negative test”.
Braun noted that the number of new Covid cases is increasing by 60% per week these days. “If the Delta variant continues to spread at this rate and we don’t contain it with vaccination or a behavior change, we will reach September with 100,000 new cases per day,” he said.
The country does not disclose immunization data for people aged 18 to 24. In the largest age group, 18 to 64, less than half (48.8%) had taken all the necessary doses of the vaccine – in general, the percentage decreases in younger people.
Germany is already adopting similar requirements when it requires proof of vaccination of children against certain diseases, for example, during schooling.
Armin Laschet, candidate for Merkel’s succession to the ruling party (CDU-CSU) and current leader of the voting intention polls, opposed Braun’s statements, saying “civil liberty must apply to all”. “I do not believe in compulsory vaccination or indirect pressure on people to get vaccinated,” said the conservative politician.
Robert Habeck, co-chair of the Greens – an acronym which is the CDU’s main rival in the election – made a distinction between restrictions and compulsory vaccination: “No one should be forced. But you cannot demand that others lose their freedom because some do not want to be immune ”.
The argument is similar to that made by Macron this weekend, when he refuted criticisms of his project. “If you infect your father, mother or me, we will be victims of your freedom, even if you can protect yourself and others. (…) It is not freedom. This is called being irresponsible and selfish, ”he declared in Tahiti (French Polynesia), where he is on an official trip.
Greece has already gone further last week and allowed the government to expand the list of professions for which vaccination is compulsory – for now, employees in the health sector or retirement homes must be vaccinated, and those who refuse are suspended.
In general, most of the 30 members of the European Union and the European Economic Area do not adopt compulsory vaccination, not even for diseases proven to kill children.
According to an EU survey, 12 countries require vaccination against certain diseases – the relationship between them varies.
There is also no consensus on the most effective policy: there are members with high coverage rates among voluntary and compulsory vaccination.
Some countries adopt financial rewards for parents or health professionals who perform the vaccination, or financial penalties and registration restrictions for those who have not been vaccinated.
The World Health Organization says it prefers “to demonstrate the benefits and safety of vaccines, to their broadest possible acceptance, rather than imposing mandatory requirements.”