France rushes to get vaccinated after president’s warning

A medical technician administers nasal swabs at a mobile testing site in Paris, Monday, July 12, 2021. France’s President Emmanuel Macron is hosting a top-level virus security meeting Monday morning and then giving a televised speech Monday evening, the kind of solemn speech he’s given at each turning point in France’s virus epidemic.(AP Photo/Michel Euler)

PARIS (AP) — More than 1 million people in France made vaccine appointments in less than a day, figures showed on Tuesday, after the president cranked up pressure on everyone to get vaccinated to save summer vacation and the French economy.

Some bristled at President Emmanuel Macron’s admonitions to “get vaccinated!” immediately, but many people signed up anyway for a jab, accepting the idea that it’s the only way to return to some semblance of pre-pandemic life.

With infections rising around France, Macron also mandated special COVID passes to go to restaurants, shopping malls, or get on trains or planes – which raised questions and worries among visiting tourists as well French vacationers.

An app that centralizes France’s vaccine and other medical appointments, Doctolib, announced Tuesday that 1.3 million people signed up for injections after Macron gave a televised address Monday night urging more vaccination. It was a daily record since France rolled out coronavirus vaccines in December. People under age 35 made up most of the new appointments, Doctolib said.

Macron announced Monday that vaccination would be obligatory for all health care workers by Sept. 15, and held out the possibility of extending the requirement to others. Around 41% of the French population has been fully vaccinated, though the pace of vaccination waned as summer vacations approached.

At a vaccine center in Versailles west of Paris, most of those lining up Tuesday were young people. Finance worker Thibault Razafinarivo, 26, said, “I have a newborn baby at home, and we don’t want to take any risks with him”. A 23-year-old who works in radiology said she wants to protect her family and her patients.

Some said the government’s vaccine push makes them feel safer, but others expressed frustration at the idea of mandatory vaccines or mandatory passes to go to a cafe — and at yet more rules from Macron’s government.

“I’m getting vaccinated because I want to have a social life and go on holidays,” said law student Marius Chavenon, 22. But he added, “I don’t think vaccination should be compulsory. We live in is France, we should be able to do what we want.”

In Paris, nurse Solene Manable said, “There are many health workers who don’t want to get vaccinated because we don’t know much about the vaccines.” But she said she understood “many people who are getting vaccinated to be able to go back to restaurants … to be able to have a normal life again.”

To get the COVID pass that will soon be required in all restaurants, people must have proof of vaccination or recent virus infection, or a negative test from the last 48 hours.

Some people said they’re now getting vaccinated because Macron also announced that France will start charging money for some virus tests, which up to now have all been free for anyone on French territory.

Paris restaurant owners expressed worry about the challenge of enforcing the new requirements and that the rules could scare customers away again, after restaurants stayed shuttered for nine months from the pandemic’s onset.

Health Minister Olivier Veran defended the new restaurant rules, saying, “The question is: It’s lockdown, or the health pass.”

He also welcome the renewed vaccine interest, saying on BFM television Tuesday: “That’s thousands of lives saved.”

More than 111,000 people with the virus have died in France.

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Nicolas Garriga in Paris contributed.

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