When the Great Plague struck Marseille in 1720, killing more than half of the city’s population, travelers were ordered to carry a “health check” and ships arriving at the Mediterranean port were suspended for 40 days. sanitary cordon or in quarantine. As a gateway for trade, city authorities have struggled to strike a delicate balance between stopping the spread of disease and harming vital trade.
Three hundred years later, President Emmanuel Macron is walking an equally delicate tightrope just eight months before seeking re-election in April 2022. And unlike former Marseillais, Macron must respond to social media.
Monday, France contested health pass will be extended in a bid to force the last installment of die-hard vaccine skeptics to get vaccinated, sparking protests across the country for the fourth weekend in a row. Last week, more than 200,000 people demonstrated, according to figures from the Ministry of the Interior.
The protests united the far left and the far right and many in between. Although there has been little opposition to the imposition of face masks, opponents firmly believe that the health pass violates the most fundamental of French principles: the freedom and equality of the national currency. They were joined yesterday in Paris by Yellow Vests and a motley team of anarchists, conspiracy theorists and those who would compare the French president to Adolf Hitler and his centrist government to the Nazis.
Protesters had placed their hopes in the Constitutional Council – a nine-member body appointed by the president and leaders of both houses of parliament to review the new legislation – stifling any extension of the laissez-passer. They must have been disappointed. On Thursday, council members, known as “wise men,” confirmed the constitutional legality of nearly all of the proposed new measures.
Subsequently, Julien Odoul, young rising star of the far-right National Rally, declared: “The constitutional council has approved a two-tier society where there are two categories of citizens who do not have the same rights, according to their vaccine. status. It is Macron’s society and the one we condemn and reject. The principles of freedom and equality are sacred.
The far left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, presidential candidate, gave his consent, calling the health pass “absurd, unfair and authoritarian”.
Macron urged his compatriots to remember the third element of the currency, fraternity, calling on them to “accept these collective rules … and to be vaccinated”.
“It’s about citizenship. Freedom only exists if everyone’s freedom is protected… it is worthless if by exercising our freedom we contaminate our brother, neighbor, friend, parents, or someone we have met during an event. So freedom becomes irresponsibility.
The health pass, adopted by French MPs last month and which was to last until September 30, already required those who frequent cinemas, theaters, museums or attend larger public events to prove that they are are fully vaccinated, have a negative Covid test, or prove they have had and recovered from the coronavirus.
From August 9, this will be extended. Anyone wishing to dine in a restaurant or drink in a bar, even on an outdoor terrace, will need the pass as well as passengers traveling long distances by train or bus or going to nursing homes and hospitals, except in a medical emergency.
From August 30, all those whose employment puts them in contact with the public will have to obtain the laissez-passer under penalty of being suspended from their functions without pay.
No one is forced to be vaccinated – except health workers and nursing homes from next month – the government insists, but they are certainly forced.
It doesn’t take much to send the French onto the streets – often leading to hyperbolic observations from outside the country that France is on the verge of another bloody revolution. That said, the August protests, when many are on vacation, are unusual.
Sociologist Jean Viard warned that the protests were “a mixture that could be explosive”. “The limits are difficult to pin down,” he told French television.
Physicist and researcher François Arleo was surprised at the polarization of the responses when he wrote a comment in the left-wing newspaper Release addressed to a friend hesitant to vaccinate, urging him to be vaccinated. “Think of Pastor and not of Darwin,” Arleo urged.
“The responses were very confrontational and quite depressing,” he told the Observer. “What shocks me is the lack of rigor, logic and scientific basis of many arguments. I don’t want to teach, but some of these educated people should know better. It is not very rational.
As with many protest movements in France, however, there is a paradox. Macron’s coercion seems to be working. Since the president announced the health pass at least 7 million French people have received their first dose of vaccine. Currently, 63.5% of the population over 12 has been fully vaccinated and reservations on the central reservation suggest that France will have vaccinated 50 million people over 12 with at least one vaccine by the end of this month.
Polls also suggest that 60 to 70% of French people support the health pass, although half of those polled said they understood the protesters.
During the demonstrations on Saturday, some demonstrators insisted that they were not in principle opposed to vaccines, but forced to have them.
“It’s a matter of personal choice,” said Thibault, during a march in Paris on Saturday. “Is it a risk? Life is a risk. Another group marched with a woman disguised as Marianne – female symbol of the republic – in chains.
Arleo admitted his appeal failed to convince his vaccine-reluctant friend.
“No, unfortunately he hasn’t changed his mind. He says he’ll probably end up having the jab because otherwise life would get too complicated. But he is not happy with it.