How France’s fight against COVID pass led the left to embolden the far right
the introduction by France of a COVID health pass entering some public spaces has encountered widespread opposition – but the left is not doing itself any favors by joining the protests.
In July, the French government introduced the rule that the public must prove that they have been vaccinated against the virus or have had a recent negative test to access public places that can accommodate more than 50 people, as well as restaurants, cafes and long-trains at a distance.
By taking to the streets to protest the rule, the left has made cardinal errors, both ethical and political, and thus contributed to a political confusion that covers conspiracy theorists and the far right.
The decision to introduce a prerequisite for accessing certain public spaces or services is somewhat arbitrary, and ultimately unsatisfactory, given the current situation. Its introduction could have been more justified if people vaccinated against COVID-19 became permanently immune to it and could not transmit it – but it is not.
Some practical aspects are also not appropriate. Why, for example, is the pass necessary for outdoor locations such as café terraces if social distancing rules are followed? And the legislation contains questionable measures: a negative test is valid for 72 hours (instead of the 24 hours accepted in Germany for example). A person could incubate the virus, which may be undetectable at the time of testing and may not manifest until the third day after infection, increasing the risk of disease and transmission.
There is also reason to deplore the double authoritarianism and amateurism of the French government. The health pass was made compulsory without any consultation or explanation of the potential benefits of a controversial decision by President Emmanuel Macron – who has single-handedly made decisions on France’s health policy for the past 18 months , some of them stealing against Medical Council. The botched debate in the National Assembly which led to the adoption of the health passport law, should not deceive anyone.
A gadget of little use
The health pass was cobbled together to compensate for the serious shortcomings of the French welfare state since the start of the pandemic (and even before): a lack of investment in public health (hospital staff and facilities / equipment); an erratic vaccination campaign that leaves behind vulnerable groups (popular classes, ethnic minorities and young people); and inconsistent, and sometimes even misleading, health messages since spring 2020 (on wearing masks and other measures the public could take to combat the spread of COVID-19).
The supposedly democratic Caesarism of the Fifth French Republic is in reality intrinsically undemocratic and hostile to public freedoms. Judging by what the demonstrators say, condemning the “health dictatorship” or the “tyrant Macron”, one might think that France has just experienced a Rebellion. However, as the former president François Mitterrand wrote, the coup d’etat became a permanent element when the the current constitution was adopted in 1958.
Creating hysteria around a complex problem will do nothing to develop a progressive perspective on the health situation. Personal rejection and contempt for Macron cannot serve as a political roadmap for a French left which is weak and struggling to make itself heard like never before. The potentially positive effects of this health pass are unclear and it was imposed without any public debate, leading to the conclusion that it is a gimmick of little use at best. The left could have grasped the situation and focused on what really matters: keeping the pressure on the government to ensure a more effective roll-out of the vaccination campaign. After all, scientists agree that the only way to beat the pandemic will be to immunize a substantial proportion of the world’s population.