French health pass drives increase in COVID-19 tests as vaccinations slow

August 22, 2021

PARIS — French biologists and pharmacists carried out a record number of COVID-19 tests in the week following the extension of the country's "health pass" to restaurants, trains and other activities.

A health pass and QR code is provided for those who are vaccinated or who have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months but also applies for people who have tested negative in the past 48 hours (for a rapid test) or 72 hours (for a PCR test).

The effort, largely viewed as a way of encouraging the population to get a COVID-19 jab, has stretched thin those carrying out the millions of tests.

"We are really at the peak of our capacities and it will be very complicated to go beyond this," Henry-Pierre Doermann, vice-president of the lab-workers union, told AFP.

There were more than 5.6 million coronavirus tests — PCR and rapid ones — carried out in week 32, between Aug. 9-15, according to Public Health France.

This was up significantly from the previous week when there were 4.15 million tests carried out.

Union leaders said this was largely due to pharmacies carrying out more tests these past weeks instead of laboratories. At least 12,000 pharmacies are currently able to test people out of a total of 21,000.

French citizens had rushed to get coronavirus vaccines after President Emmanuel Macron announced the health pass extension in mid-July, with more than one million appointments booked in the 16 hours that followed his speech.

Vaccine uptake, however, has slightly decreased, dropping by thousands per day in the past week. People getting their first dose has fallen significantly from 2.6 million at the end of July to 1.1 million last week.

The government is aiming to vaccinate 50 million people with at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine by the end of August.

Currently, at least 47 million people have received a first dose (about 70% of the population), and 40 million people have received a complete vaccination cycle (around 60.7% of the population), according to the Ministry of Health.

There are 58 million people in France who are eligible for vaccination. The least vaccinated segment of the adult population is the group between 30-39 years of age, where 73.5% of people are vaccinated, according to Doctolib.

The government will also soon focus its campaign on 12-17 year olds, of whom just 55% are vaccinated.

Meanwhile, thousands of people demonstrated in the streets of France again on Saturday against the government's COVID-19 vaccination policies amid concern from rights groups about anti-Semitic sentiment in the protest movement.

Saturday's protests were called for the sixth weekend in a row to denounce the new "health pass" system announced by Macron that they see as unfairly restricting the rights of the unvaccinated.

The Ministry of the Interior put the number of people turning out at around 175,000 at 220 demonstrations nationwide, including 14,700 in Paris. Under the system, introduced progressively since mid-July, anyone wishing to enter a restaurant, theatre, cinema, long-distance train, or large shopping center must show proof of vaccination or a negative test.

Around 200 different demonstrations were called across the country, with around 9,500 people counted in southern Montpellier, 4,000 in eastern Strasbourg and 3,400 in Bordeaux, according to local authorities.

At the head of the Paris march in the early afternoon, a few hundred people held up flags and banners with the word "Liberty" on them while shouting "Macron! We don't want your pass!"

The protest movement has brought together conspiracy theorists, anti-vaxxers, former members of the "Yellow Vest" anti-government movement, as well as people concerned that the system unfairly creates a two-tier society.

Far-right leader Florian Philippot, who has accused Macron of turning France into a dictatorship and likened the health pass to apartheid, was at the Paris rally on Saturday.

The anti-health pass movement has been marked from the beginning by slogans and symbols that have been denounced by Jewish groups and anti-racism campaigners.

"What I find striking is how it (anti-Semitism) is recurrent and openly displayed," the head of SOS Racisme, Dominique Sopo, told AFP.

"During the Yellow Vest movement it was something expressed on the margins... now the people carrying these signs are not hiding and other protesters are not reacting."

Left-wing newspaper Le Monde condemned the rise in anti-Semitic behavior in an editorial this week, calling it a "poison for society, a danger for all of us."

"Although anti-Semitism on the far-right is old, it seems to be encouraged at the moment by the rise in conspiracy thinking," it added. — Euronews/Agencies

August 22, 2021
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