French parliament debates COVID vaccine pass amid MP death threats

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Dozens of French MPs say they have received death threats ahead of a debate on the country’s latest COVID-19 restrictions.

Lawmakers in France are set to vote on whether to make vaccination pass mandatory for citizens to enter various public spaces.

Under proposed new rules, citizens will not be allowed to show a negative test result to enter bars, restaurants, or use long-distance public transport.

The current health pass will be replaced by a so-called “vaccine pass,” except where citizens have a “compelling family or health reason” not to be vaccinated.

The legislation is expected to be approved in a vote in the French parliament by Tuesday.

But the proposed tightening of restrictions has generated fresh anger from anti-vaccine protestors in France.

Several MPs in the ruling En Marche! (LREM) party of President Emmanuel Macron have reported recent threats of violence.

Last week, the property of another French MP in Oise was set on fire and vandalised by suspected anti-vaccine demonstrators. LREM’s Barbara Bessot Ballot said at least 52 MPs had received “unacceptable” threats.

“We will not yield”

On Sunday, Agnès Firmin Le Bodo of the centre-right Agir party tweeted a graphic threat that had been emailed to her anonymously.

In the email, Firmin Le Bodo was threatened with decapitation by someone who said they had bought knives.

Another MP, Naïma Moutchou of the Horizons party, shared a similar threat which said she would be “shot in your home and have your head cut off”.

In response to the death threats, French Health Minister Olivier Véran denounced the “selfishness” of anti-vaccine protestors and pledged that those responsible for the threats would be punished.

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On Monday, Véran also expressed his “unwavering support for elected officials” before the debate.

Interior Minister Gerald Darmanin has added that police will strengthen protections for elected lawmakers.

“We will not yield,” LREM lawmaker Yaël Braun-Pivet told parliament on Monday, adding that France’s democracy “is at stake”.

A tense debate in the French parliament

Like many European countries, France has seen demonstrations against coronavirus restrictions in recent months despite improving attitudes.

France currently has one the highest COVID-19 vaccination rates in the European Union with more than 91% of citizens aged 12 and over fully vaccinated.

Since August, French citizens have had to show either proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test at many public venues.

But the new “vaccine pass” is being introduced to curb a wave of infections linked to the highly contagious Omicron variant.

The government says the new regulations will prevent France from having to introduce future curfews or lockdowns. A negative test will still be sufficient to access French health facilities and services.

Those found possessing a fake vaccine pass would face a maximum penalty of five years imprisonment and a €75,000 fine. Bars and restaurants could also be fined €1,000 for failing to check customers’ vaccine status.

In a tense debate in parliament, several opposition MPs have expressed their opposition to the new rules, with left-wing lawmaker Jean-Luc Melenchon saying the proposed law would create a “totalitarian, authoritarian society”.

Others have suggested that France should focus on other “weapons” to fight the virus — such as FFP2 masks and COVID-19 tests — or introduce measures only for those at risk from infection.

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A protest was also held outside the French parliament building in Paris on Monday evening.

If passed as expected, the proposed bill will then go to the French Senate this week before it can be adopted and enter into force by mid-January.

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