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French MPs deny Covid vaccine pass comes too late to make a difference

Experts say the epidemic is retreating but that the vaccine pass is still needed as pressure on hospitals remains high

A woman wearing a mask checks a man’s vaccine pass on his phone

As France votes to bring in a vaccine pass, MPs and experts debate over whether the epidemic is receding and whether the new measures are too late to make a difference Pic: Prostock-studio / Shutterstock

French MPs have denied that the government’s decision to change the health pass to a vaccine pass has ‘come too late’ in the epidemic to make a difference as cases pass the peak and public patience for Covid rules wanes.

The Assemblee nationale on Sunday night (January 16) voted to replace the health pass with a vaccine pass. The chamber voted by 215 in favour and 58 against maintaining the use of a vaccine pass until July 31, 2022.

Read more: France to bring in vaccine passes: What will change and when? 

And yet, Professor Arnaud Fontanet, Institut Pasteur epidemiologist and member of government advisory body le Conseil scientifique, today told France Inter: “The worst-case scenario is receding. 

“The retreat has started. The peak of infections has passed, at least in Ile-de-France. Hospital admissions are set to reach a peak this week.”

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal also told CNews today: “We are still in a tense epidemic situation, with a virus that is spreading a lot. We hope that things will improve in the next few weeks. 

“I think we have reasons to be optimistic [and we are seeing] the start of a retreat of the epidemic.”

‘Reasons to be optimistic…but pressure still real’

But MP Guillaume Gouffier-Cha denied that the government was out of step with the current health situation, or that the decision on the pass had come ‘too late’ to make a difference. 

He told La Dépêche: “Absolutely not. Certainly, there are reasons to be optimistic, but the pressure in intensive care and in hospitals is still very real, we are still in an epidemic, so we must continue to move the vaccination campaign forward.

“The number of people getting their first injections is still going up, and this must continue.”

MP Jean-René Cazeneuve had a similar message. He said: “I am wary of those who believe they know exactly what is going to happen. Over the past two years, the ones who have made predictions too quickly have been wrong.

“Who says there won’t be new variants? Yes, vaccines are not a silver bullet, they do not offer total protection, but they are our only weapon.”

Mr Gouffier-Cha added that the vaccine pass would still be used according to need, within a limited time, and in direct relation to the epidemic conditions.

He said: “The objective is that we can lift the [vaccine pass] restrictions as quickly as possible. They could be lifted before July 31. 

“They are put in place according to the [state of the] epidemic, but if the number of hospitalisations drops, the measures will lift bit by bit, such as the vaccine pass, limits on gatherings, masks…but it is still too soon.”

That message appears to have been corroborated by Martin Hirsch, director of major hospital group AP-HP (Assistance Publique - Hôpitaux de Paris).

He told Libération that despite some encouraging signs, “cases are still rising in conventional hospitals [as opposed to intensive care units]”.

He said: “We can’t really talk about a ‘retreat’ just yet.” He explained that while Covid-19 calls to the SAMU were stabilising, cases in conventional hospitals in Ile-de-France were at 2,900 as of yesterday (January 17), compared to 2,600 a week earlier.

He said hospitals are still under tension, and that healthcare workers are being infected in their thousands. He said: “[In the second week of January] we recorded a record number of contaminations of staff, with 2,462 contaminated personnel, compared to 800 at the end of December.”

Dropping public support?

Despite the continued cases, some indicators suggest that public support for yet more Covid measures could be waning.

A nationally representative poll from Sunday, January 16, by Ifop, found that support for the vaccine pass among the public in France has dropped since a similar poll was taken on September 1, 2021.

In September, 64% of respondents said that they were “partially or fully in favour of a vaccine pass”, versus 58% more recently. While this is still a majority, it does indicate that support for the government’s new measures against Covid may be weakening.

Both MPs said they understood that many people were becoming fed up with the measures, and that some people are reluctant to get a third dose of the vaccine when the number of people being admitted to intensive care is going down.

But Mr Cazeneuve reiterated that the epidemic was not over. 

He said: “Yes, it’s true that everyone has had enough of wearing a mask, showing their pass…but in [my local] Auch hospital, the intensive care beds are full, mainly by non-vaccinated people who stay there for months, and that means other people’s operations are delayed.”

As AP-HP director Mr Hirsch said: “We may have passed the roaring peak but we are still on very rough seas.”

Related articles

France vaccine pass: Opposition party to appeal to constitutional body 

Health pass should become vaccine pass, says French prime minister 

100,000 protest across France against plans for vaccine pass

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