ALERT: France – Mandatory Vaccination Policy Sparks Anti-Vaccine Protests Nationwide

EVENT

In a nationwide televised address on 12 July, French President Emmanuel Macron announced a new package of measures intended to combat an emergent fourth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic in France. The new measures include mandatory vaccination for all health sector workers, retirement home staff and some social care workers, and will make the EU Digital Covid-19 Certificate required for entry to all bars, cafés, restaurants, hospitals, trains, planes and long-distance domestic transport in August. With vaccine uptake in France currently lagging behind the EU average, the new measures are intended to jump-start the national vaccination effort as a fourth wave of Delta variant infections is in full effect. However, the new measures will have a substantial impact on France's travel and hospitality sectors, and have already sparked considerable dissent from anti-vaccine and anti-restriction groups, evidenced by large protests across France on Bastille Day.

SIGNIFICANCE

  • In the hours following Macron's announcement, French health portal Doctolib reported approximately 900,000 French citizens registered online for vaccination appointments. Domestic media has hailed this surge as a positive response to Macron's address, quoting polls by data company Elabe citing general approval from 52% of the French populace for the new measures. Despite this, vaccine uptake across France remains imperiled by high levels of anti-vaccine sentiment, with approximately half the population having received one dose and just over one third having been fully vaccinated.
  • On 14 July – Bastille Day – approximately 19,000 demonstrators took to the streets across France, with major demonstrations in Paris, Lyon, Toulouse, Bordeaux, Nantes, and condemned the new measures. The most severe protests took place in Paris and Lyon, with violent clashes with riot police necessitating the deployment of tear gas, and incidences of minor damage to shops and private premises from isolated groups of rioters. Whilst Paris saw the worst violence, several 'Yellow Vest' protester groups gathered in Toulouse, whilst a group of 150-200 protesters in Annecy occupied local governmental offices for over an hour. The messaging at most protests reflected high levels of anti-vaccine sentiment, and strong opposition to the implementation of the Digital Covid-19 Certificate, which many condemned as perceived 'segregation'. Several protests also saw attendance from hospitality industry representatives peacefully protesting against mandatory health certificates, over fears the policy will negatively affect customer footfall and imperil the pandemic recovery.
  • Healthcare, retirement and social care workers will be required to comply with the new measures by 15 September, with refusal of the right to work or to receive pay likely to be the penalty for noncompliance. Several trade unions – specifically in the hospitality industry – have been quick to condemn the new measures, citing fears that sectoral recovery from the Covid-19 pandemic will be imperilled by low footfall arising from vaccine scepticism. As such, trade union UMIH has noted that several hospitality owners would prefer to pay fines for failing to enforce the Certificate rather than lose customers, and several private hospitality owners have called upon the government to postpone rollout of the Certificate to September. As such, the potential for regulatory de-alignment is high, and hospitality and entertainment businesses will face substantial policy risk in coming months.

FORECAST

In the short term, prolonged domestic unrest is estimated to be very likely as further protests against the new measures are anticipated in coming weeks. Despite polls by Elabe indicating that a slim majority of French citizens approve of the President's new policies, the sweeping nature of the measures is likely to substantially polarise public sentiment, and will likely drive anti-vaccine activist groups to increase their activity as restrictions come into force in summer and early autumn. Whilst the Bastille Day protests did not see high levels of planning or organisation from anti-vaccine groups, with rioters spilling out from predetermined protest routes and causing minor damage to private properties in Paris, Lyon and other cities, future protests are likely to target government buildings and vaccination clinics more selectively, with high potential for violent clashes with security forces. Although no social media chatter identifying concrete risk in this regard has presently been identified, there is a minimal chance that hotels, hospitality venues and other workplaces actively enforcing Certificate requirements could also be physically targeted by anti-vaccine groups across France.

Alerts form part of Sibylline’s World Risk Register, a ground-breaking analytical service designed to help organisations of all sizes navigate an uncertain world.

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