PARIS, France (AFP)— France on Thursday began requiring teenagers 12 and older to present a COVID-19 "health pass" to enter public sites such as restaurants, sport clubs or cinemas, extending a measure already in place for adults for two months.
Although daily COVID cases have fallen steadily since August, authorities are hoping to stave off a potential flare-up as colder weather approaches and people spend more time indoors.
The pass, available on paper or as a QR code on phones, proves vaccination, a recent negative COVID test, or inoculation because a person has already had the virus.
Announced by President Emmanuel Macron in July, it prompted millions of people to get the jabs after holding out for months, giving France one of the world's highest vaccination rates.
But thousands of people have turned out in weekly protests, saying the pass discriminates against people opposed to the vaccine because of safety fears or other reasons.
The government is nonetheless preparing a law that would let it keep imposing the health pass if necessary until next summer, calling it a key measure for avoiding another lockdown that would cripple a fragile economic recovery.
Around two-thirds of French teenagers are fully vaccinated, compared with 72 per cent for the population as a whole.
However on Thursday the government said primary schoolchildren would no longer have to wear masks in class in 47 of the roughly 100 French departments where the virus is no longer spreading rapidly.
The departments have incident rates of less than 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, mainly in rural areas -- Paris and much of southern France remain on high alert.
As of Wednesday, France has recorded 116,657 COVID deaths since the start of the pandemic, including 42 in the previous 24 hours.