More than 20,000 French people a minute booked vaccine appointments in the hours after Emmanuel Macron announced that cafes, restaurants, shopping malls and trains would be out of bounds for unvaccinated customers from next month.
“We’ve broken all records since the start of the vaccination campaign, and it’s continued during the night and into this morning,” Stanislas Niox-Chateau, the head of Doctolib – France’s main medical appointments website – said on Tuesday.
A total of 926,000 people, most under 35, had booked jabs since the French president’s Monday evening address, Niox-Chateau said. The health minister, Olivier Véran, confirmed that almost a million appointments had been booked, “which means thousands of lives have been saved”.
Macron said that from 21 July anyone wanting to visit a theatre, cinema, sports venue or festival that had an audience of more than 50 people would need to show a health pass proving they were either fully vaccinated or had tested negative.
The same requirement will be extended to bars, cafes, restaurants, shopping centres, hospitals, long-distance trains and planes from 1 August, the president said. Free Covid tests, meanwhile, will end in September, “to encourage vaccination”.
In an address watched by 22.4 million people, Macron also said vaccinations would be mandatory for health workers, retirement home staff and all others working with vulnerable people, with sanctions for those not fully vaccinated by September.
Meanwhile, speaking on Tuesday, Angela Merkel ruled out making vaccination mandatory for certain population groups, saying Germany did not “intend to go down this road” since it was still “at the beginning of the phase in which we are still promoting vaccination”.
The chancellor said she believed the government would gain trust by mandating vaccines, but rather by “letting as many people as possible in the population … become vaccine ambassadors”. Some German specialists and government advisers have recommended making jabs compulsory for certain professions such as teachers.
French cinema and restaurant owners were broadly supportive of Macron’s measures, but raised doubts about how they would work in practice. Marc-Olivier Sebbag, of France’s cinema owners’ association, said his members backed the general idea but were unclear how it would be organised. “Are we supposed to check passes are authentic?” he said.
Jean Hubert, of the hotel and catering industries association, said: “I’m afraid it’s going to be complicated. Our role is to welcome people, to give pleasure. This will turn us into gendarmes … There are going to be rows, for sure – what do we do if six people book a table and only three have passes, ask everyone to leave?”
Véran told BFM-TV on Tuesday that the number of new infections in France was doubling every five days and the government “has to protect everyone. The choice is between another lockdown or the health pass – it’s not punishment or blackmail.”
The government’s official spokesman, Gabriel Attal, on Monday described the measures not as an “obligation to get vaccinated, but maximum inducement. We simply can’t afford to wait, we have to move as fast as we can.” Cafe and restaurant terraces would also be covered by the new rules, Attal said.
The head of the Paris area’s hospitals, Martin Hirsch, told French public radio he was “very relieved” by the measures, adding that none of the intensive care patients in the region had been vaccinated.
The rolling seven-day average of new daily coronavirus cases has been rising sharply in France in recent days, surging by about 65% since last week to 57 per million people – about 4,000 cases a day, double last month’s figure.
About 35.5 million – just over half the country’s population – have had at least one vaccine dose so far, according to government figures, with about 37% of the total population fully vaccinated.
France has long had one of Europe’s highest rates of vaccine scepticism, and although polls suggest hesitancy has fallen significantly as the pandemic has worn on the number of first doses being administered each day has recently begun slowing.
“You’ve understood – vaccination is not immediately obligatory for everyone, but we’re going to extend the health pass to the maximum, in order to push a maximum of you to go and get vaccinated,” Macron told the nation.
France’s far-right and anti-vaxx campaigners responded furiously to the president’s announcement. Florian Philippot, of Les Patriotes, a breakaway party from Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National, said that while the UK was heading to “total freedom” on 19 July, France was “sliding into dictatorship”.
“You can do without the cinema, restaurants, cafes, bars, theatres,” Philippot said on Twitter. “You cannot do without your dignity, your liberty, your humanity. Boycott everything, until this health pass disappears.”