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The French Rush For Vaccines After They're Told They'll Need Them To Go To Cafes

French President Emmanuel Macron says vaccination is "the only path to return to normal life." His new policy will require a special "health pass" for anyone wanting to visit restaurants.
Screen grab by NPR
French President Emmanuel Macron says vaccination is "the only path to return to normal life." His new policy will require a special "health pass" for anyone wanting to visit restaurants.

A record number of French citizens booked vaccine shots Monday after French President Emmanuel Macron said that starting in August, anyone who wants to visit cafes, bars or shopping centers must show a "health pass" that certifies they've been vaccinated or recently tested negative for the coronavirus.

"Get vaccinated!" the president said in a live address to the nation, warning of a new coronavirus surge fueled by the fast-spreading delta variant.

Many French people got the message loud and clear. On Monday, 926,000 people booked their first dose through the online medical platform Doctolib — "an absolute record," the site says. Hundreds of thousands more have continued to book slots on Tuesday.

Vaccination, Macron said, is "the only path to return to normal life." He called it "our collective shield."

The new policy also makes vaccinations or a recent negative test mandatory for:

  • Anyone who works in health care and nursing homes or who has contact with vulnerable people, with a deadline of mid-September.
  • Anyone 12 and over who wants to visit an amusement park, attend a show, concert or festival, starting on July 21.
  • Macron says France will have to live with the virus

    France celebrated the return of indoor dining for restaurants and cafes in June as months of shutdown orders ended and a nightly curfew was eased. The country also reopened its vital tourism industry — but officials said that the return to business as usual relies on people embracing vaccination.

    "It's a question of individual responsibility, of a sense of collective spirit," Macron said in his address. "It is also what our freedom depends on, for everyone."

    In another change, starting in autumn, tests for the coronavirus will no longer be free unless they're prescribed by a doctor — a strategy meant to nudge people away from relying on repeated negative tests to prove they don't pose a health risk to others.

    Macron did not issue any new lockdown orders, instead reiterating that the French public will have to "live with the virus," likely through at least part of 2022.

    Less than half of the country is vaccinated

    France's new case rate is currently far below the large secondary spike it endured in the spring. But with only around 37% of the country vaccinated, and coronavirus variants prevalent in screening tests, Macron and other officials said a recent rise in cases is a warning the country is again at risk of seeing its health system overwhelmed by new COVID-19 cases.

    Many of the new cases are coming from younger people, specifically those between 15 and 44, according to the country's health department.

    France has reported more than 5.8 million COVID-19 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University, ranked fourth in the world. More than 111,000 people have died from the disease in the country.

    Copyright 2021 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

    Bill Chappell is a writer and editor on the News Desk in the heart of NPR's newsroom in Washington, D.C.