When the Great Plague struck Marseille in 1720, killing more than half the city’s population, travelers were ordered to carry a “health certificate” and ships arriving in the Mediterranean port were subjected to 40 days. sanitary cordon or quarantine. As a gateway to commerce, city authorities struggled to find a delicate balance between stopping the spread of the disease and damaging vital commerce.
Three hundred years later, President Emmanuel Macron walks an equally difficult tightrope just eight months before seeking re-election in April 2022. And unlike the former Marseillais, Macron has to respond to social media.
On Monday, France contested health pass will be extended with the goal of coercing the bottom line of hardline vaccine skeptics to get vaccinated, sparking protests across the country for the fourth weekend in a row. Last week, more than 200,000 people turned out to demonstrate, according to figures from the Interior Ministry.
The protests have united the far left and far right and many in between. While there has been little opposition to the imposition of face masks, opponents fervently believe in the health pass violates the most fundamental of French principles: the Liberty Y equality of the national motto. They were joined yesterday in Paris by Gilets Jaunes and a motley group of anarchists, conspiracy theorists and those who would compare the French president to Adolf Hitler and his centrist government to the Nazis.
The protesters had pinned their hopes on the constitutional council, a nine-member body appointed by the president and the leaders of both houses of parliament to analyze the new legislation, which stifles any extension of the pass. They would be disappointed. On Thursday, the councilors, known as “the wise men,” defended the constitutional legality of almost all the proposed new measures.
Subsequently, Julien Odoul, a young rising star of the far-right National Rassemblement, said: “The constitutional council has approved a two-tier society where there are two categories of citizens who do not have the same rights, depending on their vaccination status. This is Macron’s partnership and one that we condemn and reject. The principles of freedom and selfishness are sacred. “
Far-left leader Jean-Luc Mélenchon, a presidential candidate, agreed and described the health pass as “absurd, unfair and authoritarian.”
Macron urged his compatriots to remember the third element of the motto, fraternity, asking them to “accept these collective norms … and get vaccinated.”
“It’s about citizenship. Freedom only exists if everyone’s freedom is protected … it is worth nothing if by exercising our freedom we contaminate our brother, neighbor, friend, parents, or someone we have met at an event. Then freedom turns into irresponsibility. “
The health pass, approved by French parliamentarians last month and which was to last until September 30, those who went to cinemas, theaters, museums or attended major public events were already required to show that they are fully vaccinated, have proof of Covid negative or proof that they have had and have recovered from the coronavirus.
As of August 9 it will be extended. Anyone wishing to dine in a restaurant or drink in a bar, even on an outside terrace, will need the pass, as will passengers traveling long distances by train or bus or visiting nursing homes and hospitals, except in an emergency medical.
As of August 30, all those whose work brings them into contact with the public must have the pass or face being suspended from their jobs without pay.
No one is being forced to get vaccinated, apart from next month’s health and nursing home staff, the government insists, but they are certainly being coerced.
It doesn’t take much to send the French into the streets, often leading to hiberbolic observations from outside the country that France is on the cusp of another bloody revolution. That said, protests in August, when many are on vacation, are unusual.
Sociologist Jean Viard warned that the protests were “a mix that could be explosive.” “The limits are difficult to pin down,” he told French television.
Physicist and researcher François Arleo was surprised at how polarized the responses were when he wrote a comment piece on the left Break free addressed to a friend who doubted vaccinations, urging him to get vaccinated. “Think of Pasteur and not Darwin,” urged Arleo.
“The responses have been very divisive and quite depressing,” he told the Observer. “What surprises me is the lack of rigor, logic and scientific basis for many of the arguments. I don’t want to give lessons, but some of these educated people should know better. It’s not very rational. “
However, as with many protest movements in France, there is a paradox. Macron’s coercion appears to be working. Since the president announced the health pass at least 7 million French people have received their first dose of the vaccine. Currently, 63.5% of the population over 12 years of age has been fully vaccinated and reserves in the central reserve system suggest that France will have vaccinated 50 million people over 12 years of age with at least one puncture by the end of this month.
Surveys also suggest 60-70% of French people support the health pass, although half of those surveyed said they understood the protesters.
In Saturday’s demonstrations, some protesters were eager to point out that they were not opposed to vaccines in principle, but were forced to do so.
“This is a matter of personal choice,” Thibault said, at a march in Paris on Saturday. “It’s a risk? Life is a risk. “Another group marched with a woman dressed as Marianne, the female symbol of the republic, in chains.
Arleo admitted that his appeal had failed to convince his vaccine-averse friend.
“No, unfortunately he has not changed his mind. He says that he will probably end up having the jab because otherwise life will get too complicated. But he’s not happy with it. “
George is Digismak’s reported cum editor with 13 years of experience in Journalism