France will introduce new vaccine passport rules for visitors to cafes and restaurants from next week, the government announced tonight.
In a live TV address on Thursday evening, Prime Minister Jean Castex said the controversial new document will become compulsory for those who want to visit cafes, restaurants and a range of other businesses from next week.
Meanwhile, Austria’s lower house of parliament passed a bill on Thursday making COVID-19 vaccinations compulsory for adults as of Febuary 1.
The bill’s passage brings Austria closer to introducing the first such sweeping coronavirus vaccine mandate in the European Union.
The moves from France and Austria come amid surging Covid-19 cases on the continent, driven by the highly infectious Omicron variant.
Official data shows cases rocketing in France, and on the rise in the likes of Portugal, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Cases are also high in Italy and Spain, although they appear to have levelled-off in recent days.
But as cases rise on the continent, Britain’s Covid figures demonstrate that an end is in sight. Having peaked in early January, the UK now has one of the lower rates.
France will introduce new vaccine passport rules for visitors to cafes and restaurants from next week, the government announced tonight. Pictured: Pedestrians walk near The Arc de Triomphe in Paris, France, 17 January 2022
Until now, a negative Covid test was sufficient for people in France to enter cafes, restaurants and other hospitality businesses, but a double vaccination and booster jab will from next week become essential to obtain a passport.
‘The vaccination pass will come into effect next Monday,’ said Mr Castex. ‘This wave is not over, but things are involving positively.’
France hit a new daily record for Covid infections on Tuesday, registering nearly half a million fresh cases.
Mr Castex’s country revealed 464,769 cases over the previous 24 hours, despite a series of diktats being imposed in a desperate bid to curb the rising case numbers.
These included forcing children as young as six to wear masks, and banning drinking while standing up in cafes or bars.
Mr Castex said such measures would be scrapped within the next two weeks, but vaccinations for 12 to 17 years olds will start on January 24.
The Prime Minister added: ‘We also need to advance the vaccination of children aged 5 to 11’.
Masks will no longer have to be worn outside from February 2, and there will also be a winding down of people working from home.
France’s hardline passport measures are in stark contrast to Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s approach.
Official data shows cases rocketing in France, and on the rise in the likes of Portugal, Germany, Austria, Sweden and the Czech Republic. Cases are also high in Italy and Spain, although they appear to have levelled-off in recent days
France’s Prime Minister Jean Castex speaks on Thursday, announcing the controversial new vaccine passport document that will become compulsory for those who want to visit cafes, restaurants and a range of other businesses from next week
Meanwhile, Austria’s parliament on Thursday approved making Covid-19 vaccinations mandatory for adults from next month, becoming the first European country to do so despite a wave of protests opposing the measure.
The Austrian government, faced with a stubbornly high number of vaccine holdouts and a surge in infections, said in November it was planning the mandate. Since then it has raised the age as of which the mandate will apply, to 18 from 14.
The bill must now pass the upper house and be signed by President Alexander Van der Bellen, steps which will be largely formalities.
Tens of thousands have demonstrated against mandatory vaccination in regular weekend rallies since the measure was announced in November in a bid to drive up the country’s vaccination rate.
All parties, except the far-right, supported the measure, with the new legislation passing with 137 votes in favour and 33 votes against it in the 183-seat parliament.
‘It is adopted with the (necessary) majority,’ Doris Bures, second president of the National Council, said.
To date, 72 percent of Austrian residents have been fully vaccinated against the coronavirus – in line with the European Union-wide average of just more than 70 percent, but several percentage points below regional neighbours such as Italy and France.
Under the new law, which takes effect on February 4, those holding out against the jab can face fines of up to 3,600 euros ($4,100) from mid-March after an initial ‘introductory phase’.
The government initially wanted to cover everyone aged 14 and older, but now the measure only applies to adults, except pregnant women and those with a medical exemption.
Pictured: Austrian parliament in Vienna, Thursday, Jan. 20, 2022. The parliament voted in favour of introducing a COVID-19 vaccine mandate for adults, the first of its kind in Europe
The overwhelming majority of MPs from all parties voted in favour of the law, with the leaders of the opposition Social Democrats (SPOe) and the liberal NEOS lending their backing to the centre right-green coalition.
The only significant opposition came from the far-right Freedom Party (FPOe), which has courted anti-vaccination voters.
FPOe leader Herbert Kickl railed against the law in the charged parliamentary debate on Thursday, claiming it ‘paves the way to totalitarianism in Austria’.
He vowed that he himself would continue to refuse vaccination in defiance of the new law.
‘Vaccination is an opportunity for our society to achieve lasting and continuous freedom, because the virus cannot restrict us any further,’ centre-right Chancellor Karl Nehammer told reporters earlier ahead of the debate.
Green Health Minister Wolfgang Mueckstein appealed during the debate on ‘all citizens to question myths around vaccination’, insisting that ‘all the evidence indicates that the vaccines available in Austria are safe’.
Tens of thousands have demonstrated against mandatory vaccination in regular weekend rallies in Austria since the measure was announced in November in a bid to drive up the country’s vaccination rate
However, some Austrians remain to be convinced of the merits of vaccination, with a couple of hundred opponents of the law gathering for a noisy protest near parliament on Thursday morning.
Teacher Kerstin said she felt the law ran against the constitution and ignored the fact that ‘we are meant to have certain basic rights’.
Others present maintained that too few studies had been carried out on the long-term effects of the jabs and that they would resist paying any potential fines.
On Wednesday, the government announced it was setting up ‘security zones’ around health facilities and vaccination centres so that the police can turn away anyone ‘causing difficulties’, including demonstrators.
To incentivise those who may still be wavering, the government is launching a lottery for all those vaccinated with prizes of 500-euro vouchers to be used in shops, hotels, restaurants and culture and sports venues.
Austria has to date seen almost 14,000 Covid-related deaths and 1.5 million cases in a population of around nine million.
The daily infection tolls continue to break records, hitting a new high of more than 27,600 on Wednesday.
Compulsory vaccinations against Covid remain rare worldwide, though Ecuador, Tajikistan, Turkmenistan, Indonesia and Micronesia have introduced such schemes.