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POLITICS

France sets new daily Covid case record with over 270,000 infections

France set a new record on Tuesday for the number of daily Covid infections as lawmakers debated the planned new vaccine pass.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran addresses the French National Assembly.
French Health Minister Olivier Veran addresses the French National Assembly. France may be about to break another Covid record. (Photo by Christophe ARCHAMBAULT / AFP)

French Health Minister Olivier Véran had already warned that the country was about to break another Covid-19 case record on Tuesday by suggesting the country could report nearly 300,000 new infections within a 24-hour period.

In the end some 271, 686 cases were reported by health authorities. 

France broke its record for the most number of new Covid cases recorded in 24 hours last week, registering 232,200 infections on Friday. This figure was mostly driven by the rapid spread of the Omicron variant but also by increased testing in the run up to New Year’s Eve. 

Veran also reported that 64 children were in hospital in France with severe forms of Covid-19 – the highest number since the star of the pandemic.

The centrist party of French President Emmanuel Macron had been left red-faced after opposition parties joined forces to hold up a bill tightening measures against Covid-19.

Prime Minister Jean Castex condemned opposition MPs, telling them: “the virus is galloping and you are pulling the hand break”. 

The National Assembly was debating the implementation of a vaccine pass that will require a full course of vaccination to attend events, eat out or travel by inter-city train, rather than a recent negative test or proof of recovery.

READ MORE What will change when France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass?

But when the government asked the chamber late Monday to continue debating the legislation after midnight, to ensure it could be adopted by the end of the week, the right-wing Republicans (LR) teamed up with the far-right and far-left to stop the debate.

In an embarrassment for Macron’s Republic on the Move (LREM) party that controls parliament, not enough of its lawmakers were still present in the chamber when the vote by a show of hands was taken on continuing the debate.

French media said the surprise move by the LR — which has backed the main thrust of the legislation — pointed to rising political tensions ahead of April 2022 presidential elections, which Macron appears the favourite, but is not certain, to win.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal lashed out at a “procedural coup” by opposition lawmakers, saying they wanted to “derail the calendar” for the vaccine pass for purely political reasons.

“We will do everything to stick to the calendar as has been set out,” he told France Inter radio. The government wants the new legislation to be implemented from January 15.

The debate was due to resume late Tuesday, parliamentary sources said, with 500 amendments filed by the opposition to be discussed and lawmakers facing another late night.

Member comments

  1. Wow, 300,000 that’s shocking! I’ve been indoors with a broken knee for the last two months but when I went to the Casino supermarket yesterday in the south of France I couldn’t believe how many people weren’t wearing masks or weren’t wearing them properly. It made me kind of angry!!! lol

    1. In the UK, after going though all the hoops to get in, the signs outside Sainsburys etc., INVITE you to wear one if you feel like it.

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OPINION &ANALYSIS

OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

It's another hot summer in France and there's another predictable uproar over the Burkini. If France wants to take its place in a multicultural world then it must make room for all its citizens, writes civil liberties expert Rim-Sarah Alouane.

OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

France’s compulsive obsession with the behaviour and dress of its Muslim citizens has taken on worrying proportions, and has turned over the years into a form of mass hysteria. The “burkini affair” is one of many examples.

The burkini is a two-piece full body swimsuit with sleeves, long legs and a headgear. This type of swimming-suit made of Lycra® leaves the face, feet and hands uncovered. It was invented in 2003 by Australian designer Aheda Zanetti, who wanted to develop sporting attire for Muslim women that would allow them to take part in sports activities while accommodating their religious beliefs. While the burkini was first designed for Muslim women, it has also been adopted by many non-Muslim women who wish to cover their bodies for various reasons.

The controversy escalated in 2016, when the French Council of State – France’s highest administrative court – overturned a series of local initiatives to ban the use of burkinis on public beaches. These bans were implemented in an atmosphere of increasing anti-Muslim sentiment by local officials who argued that such attire disturbed the public order. The Council saw no such disturbance and argued that it was an infringement on constitutionally protected civil liberties. This, however, did not end the controversy.

READ ALSO: Why is France’s interior minister getting involved in women’s swimwear?

In response, the political establishment from across the political spectrum tried to find legal loopholes to circumvent the ruling, turning their attention to municipal swimming pools where they could modify the rules governing public services.

A recent controversy involved the Green Party Mayor of Grenoble, Eric Piolle, who authorized the wearing of the burkini (as well as topless swimsuits) in municipal swimming pools, triggering an avalanche of criticism. Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin accused Mr Piolle of entertaining “communitarian provocation” and that authorizing the wearing of the burkini in public swimming pools was contrary to France’s values. Once again, French Muslim women found themselves stigmatised and targeted.

They were accused of being a conduit for Islamist extremism, separatism, patriarchy, and violating the principle of laïcité. This discourse, like so much before it, happened without inviting Muslim women themselves to be a part of the conversation.

Modern interpretations of Laïcité – France’s unique way of managing church-state relations – have become an ideological tool for political identity, a factor of division, and the exclusion of French Muslims from the societies in which they live. How did we get here?

The meaning of the term “laïcité” has become obscured by the fact that its interpretations are diverse and sometimes contradictory.

Its current usage betrays the very liberal intention of the 1905 law on “Separation of Church and State”, the ruling which forms the foundation of the principle. 

Laïcité once defined the territories in which the State is sovereign and religious belief is left at the door. It generates obligations for the state to remain neutral and guarantee the religious freedom and freedom of conscience of its citizens, within the limits of public order.

A significant misinterpretation of the 1905 law persists to this day. The law does not require religious belief or visible signs thereof to be kept in the home. However, politicians and pundits on a daily basis cite the law in their efforts to erase any religious visibility (especially Islam) in the public square.

Any attempt to show visible attributes of faith outside the home are deemed to be a threat to a commonly-held belief that France’s citizens should conform to an imaginary notion of what it means to be French. This very illiberal interpretation of laïcité and religious neutrality goes against the essence of the Law of 1905.

As France continues to mature as a country made up of people from different ethnic and religious backgrounds, vulnerable communities have begun to advocate for their rights to be treated as equals with their fellow French citizens without giving up their personal beliefs and customs.

Critics of the clothing choices of Muslim women have forgotten the fundamental freedoms of the Declaration of  the Rights of Man and the Citizen of 1789, often seeking to free Muslim women from their religion. Even when Muslim women dare to defend their basic rights, they are often accused of being radicalised.

A good Muslim woman is a quiet invisible woman. The irony is that many Muslim women who wear their burkinis to swimming pools or wear headscarves during sports competitions actually go against rigorous interpretations of Islam. In order to justify burkini bans, politicians or commentators will often point to Muslim-majority countries who have similar prohibitions, as if authoritarian states were a role model for France to follow.

Muslim women are perceived as a threat because they shake France’s status quo. The illusion of France being a colour-blind nation has been broken. If France really believes that multicultural communities threaten the character of the country, it must not believe that its culture – one that the entire world looks up to – is actually that strong.

But if France is to take its place in a multicultural world, it needs to come to terms with how vulnerable communities fit within the notion of French identity and make room for all its citizens.

Rim-Sarah Alouane is a doctoral candidate and a researcher in comparative law at the University Toulouse Capitole in France. Her research focuses on civil liberties, constitutional law, and human rights in Europe and North America. She tweets @rimsarah
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