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Despite growing protests, French lawmakers have moved a step closer to passing a bill that would introduce obligatory coronavirus vaccinations for certain professions and condition access to cultural and leisure spaces, as well as travel, on a health pass showing proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

The French Senate late Saturday approved the bill but introduced changes to the government’s draft to exempt minors and remove restaurant and cafe terraces from places requiring the new passe sanitaire. Senators also tabled an amendment to postpone implementation of the new rules to September, instead of August. The law now needs final approval from the lower house of parliament.

Ahead of the Senate vote, more than 160,000 people protested across France against the proposed restrictions, up by some 50,000 on demonstrations last weekend. Around 35 percent of French citizens support such protests according to a new poll.

That’s significantly lower than backing at the start of other recent-anti-government protest movements, such as the so called Yellow Jackets who rose up against fuel price hikes in 2018. Many Yellow Jackets have joined demonstrations against the health pass.

The protesters denounced what they call a “sanitary dictatorship” and claim the health passes violate individual freedom.

France’s government has been keeping a watchful eye on the protest movement, fearing a new social crisis over the summer and into the autumn since the demonstrations have managed to attract sizeable crowds despite the summer vacation. After last week’s protests, the government made several concessions, including lowering fines for noncompliance, pushing back deadlines and changing rules for shopping malls.

Several other European countries are moving ahead with vaccine passes in an effort to hold back the resurgent pandemic while allowing citizens to return to something like a normal social life.

In Germany this issue is politically divisive. Chancellor Angela Merkel ruled out a French-style approach last week, but her Chancellory chief of staff Helge Braun on Sunday indicated such moves could be coming if new cases continue to rise. “Those who have been vaccinated will definitely have more freedom than those who have not been vaccinated,” he told the Bild am Sonntag newspaper.

“If the incidence of infection is high despite testing concepts, unvaccinated people would have to reduce their contacts,” Braun explained. “This may also mean that certain offerings such as restaurants, movies and stadium visits would no longer be possible, even for tested unvaccinated people, because the residual risk is too high.”

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