Starting on March 14, France is set to suspend its “vaccine passport” program. The measures are set to be lifted just a little over a month before the country’s presidential elections. French Prime Minister Jean Castex confirmed the move in a statement, citing a decline in infections.
“The health situation is improving,” Castex told TF1 television on Thursday. With the exception of transportation, French citizens will no longer be required to wear masks in order to gain entry to venues starting on March 14. The vaccine passport system will also be “suspended” with the exception of elderly care centers and nursing homes.
Since August, proof of vaccination has been required for entry to gyms, coffee shops, cinemas and dozens of other venues across the nation. France’s “pass sanitaire” was launched with the aim of coercing French citizens to get inoculated. “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,” French President Emmanual Macron said last August.
Following the announcement of the vaccine passport system, France was rocked by intense protests for weeks. The French Interior Ministry estimated the crowd size at over 200,000 in Paris during the peak of the demonstrations. Macron and his government only doubled down from there, however, with the president vowing to ramp up heat on unvaccinated citizens as recently as January. “I am not about pissing off the French people,” Macron told French magazine Le Parisien in January. “But as for the non-vaccinated, I really want to piss them off. And we will continue to do this, to the end. This is the strategy.”
Now, with presidential elections just a month away, the Macron government is changing directions. In dropping its vaccine passport program, France joins Sweden, Ireland, the U.K. and a handful of other European nations who have done the same. Several of the most COVID-strict U.S. states and cities have also dropped mandates in recent weeks, including New York and California.