The French government was due to adopt on Monday draft legislation requiring proof of full vaccination, immunity or a recent test to enter bars, restaurants, shopping centres and long distance trains.
The draft French law, which will then be rushed through parliament this week, was necessary to stem “stratospheric” infection levels due to the rise of the more contagious Delta variant, said the French government spokesman Gabriel Attal.
New daily infections reached 12,532 on Sunday, more than double the number of a week ago but well below new daily cases in the UK, which stand at more than 48,000.
This prompted the French Europe minister on Monday to slam Britain’s restrictions on travellers from France as “excessive”.
“We don’t think that the United Kingdom’s decisions are totally based on scientific foundations. We find them excessive,” Clément Beaune told BFM TV after the UK decided that visitors would need to quarantine for 10 days after arriving from France amid concern over the Beta variant.
Worried about the threat of a fourth wave amid a summer slowdown in vaccination rates, President Emmanuel Macron unveiled his plan for the new “health pass” on July 12, telling the country the only way to avoid fresh restrictions was the needle.
The strategy has clearly worked, as some 3.7 million people have since signed up for jabs. More than 43 per cent of French people have now had two doses. Summing up the tactic, the weekly magazine Marianne published a cartoon showing the French president dangling a glass of wine on a fishing line before a thirsty compatriot to lure him to a vaccination centre.
The new measures will also make vaccination compulsory for health workers and retirement home staff by September. Restaurants, cinemas and other venues that fail to check health passes face €45,000 fines and a year in prison under the draft rules, which may toughen self-isolation rules and checks.
Around 114,000 people took to the streets on Saturday in France to protest against the health pass
While a clear majority of French back the new rules, they also sparked protests this Saturday gathering around 114,000 people across the country. Critics – including “yellow vests” and fringe far-Right and Left politicians – slammed the government’s "tyranny" and branded Mr Macron a “dictator” for measures they said trampled on their “freedoms”.
In Paris, a former member of Mr Macron’s parliamentary party, Martine Wonner, urged protesters to "go lay siege to lawmakers, go invade their headquarters, to tell them you do not agree".
Some anti-vaccination protesters equated pressure on them to get a jab with the holocaust by brandishing the symbol of the yellow star – imposed on Jewish citizens in Nazi-occupied Europe to mark them out for discrimination and death camps.
Joseph Szwarc, 94, who escaped the wartime roundup of Jews at the Vel d’Hiv cycling track in Paris, called the move “odious”. He said: “You can’t imagine how this affected me. Tears came to my eyes. I wore the yellow star, I know what it is, it’s in my flesh.”
The lawyer Arno Klarsfeld, a member of the association Sons and Daughters of Jewish Deportees from France, said: “The yellow star was a passport that led you to death, whereas the vaccine allows people to save lives.”
Mr Attal called it “absolutely scandalous” behaviour from a “tiny minority” and dismissed anti-vaccine protesters as “a capricious and defeatist fringe”.
“From now on, it’s either generalised vaccination or a viral tsunami, there is no alternative,” he said.