Covid: Tens of thousands in France rush to get jabbed as vaccine passes rolled out

ITV News Europe Editor James Mates reports on the latest Covid news from Paris

As the debate over Covid-19 vaccine passports rages in the UK, the French government has been getting on with it, determined to get ahead of the Delta variant surge and get their "vaccine hesitant" youngsters jabbed. It seems to be working.

Ever since President Emmanuel Macron announced that most venues, means of transport and public facilities were only to be accessible to the fully-vaccinated or those who have tested negative for Covid, tens of thousands have flooded the vaccine website, and pop-up clinics are full. The difference from a few months ago when the French were bemoaning their glacially slow vaccine roll-out, is dramatic.

Today they are struggling to cope with demand, mostly from the young who had been "hesitant", or unconvinced they needed a jab, or just too idle to get on with it.

The new rules are pretty draconian: without a double vax or negative test you already cannot get into cinemas, museums, concert halls or indoor sporting events with audiences of more than 50 people.

From next week, that will be extended to cafes, restaurants, bars, shopping centres, hospitals, retirement homes, plus long-distant travel by plane, train or bus. That list is long, but not exhaustive. By September, the rules will be extended further to employees of any of the above, and will apply to everyone over-12, not just adults.

The French are currently vaccinating everyone over-12, with the permission of both their parents. Macron was uncompromising with the (powerful) anti-vax movement in France: “I no longer have any intention of sacrificing my life, my time, my freedom and the adolescence of my daughters, as well as their right to study properly, for those who refuse to be vaccinated.

"This time you stay at home, not us.”

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Fighting talk - and it was met by a suitably belligerent response in demonstrations across France last weekend.

The anti-vaxxers say their issue is with compulsion, not with the vaccine itself, but of course it is the jabs that are the real problem.

The issue is uniting the far-right and the far-left here, and risks reigniting the ‘Gilets Jaunes’ movement that scarred France for months before Covid came along. But the government in Paris believes it is worth the risk. They see the bigger danger being the rise of the Delta variant that has seen infections in France push towards 20,000 a day, ominously tracking the path of the UK just a few weeks ago.

However, Britain has a stronger ‘vaccine wall’, and the French are realistic about the danger that their fourth wave could be worse than Britain’s.

As of Sunday, almost 50% of France's population has received both doses of a Covid vaccine, compared to more than 56% of the UK's population on Monday.

France is the first big country to go all out for compulsory vaccine passports, but it is unlikely to be the last.

The US is moving fast in that direction, and the debate in the UK seems to be only going one way.

After all, compulsory vaccinations are common across the world. The French example may be adding the Covid vaccine to that list.