France: Riot police present at Paris health pass protests
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The French President introduced the scheme to link access to restaurants, bars, hospitals, museums, cinema and sports venues to convince people to get vaccinated against coronavirus. It means people must present proof of vaccination or a recent negative test before entering such public areas. But it has sparked weeks of mass protests, with people furious that the government in Paris is curtailing their freedoms.
Polling shows most French support the strict measures to curb the spread of COVID-19, but opponents have marched in opposition of the scheme for five straight weekends.
And this has triggered the creation of a black market for counterfeit passes on the social media application Snapchat – despite the risk of prison sentences.
Users are openly advertising their fraudulent documents on the app, with some accounts only lasting for a few days to evade detection.
Adverts say: “Your health pass by email in eight to 10 hours maximum.”
Others claimed that “vaccination is optional thanks to our service” or “say no to the vaccine and get a health pass without getting vaccinated”.
One 28-year-old event planner told the AFP news agency that he obtained a fake pass for £298, despite the coronavirus vaccine being free in France.
The man claimed he isn’t an anti-vaxxer but believes young people shouldn’t be forced to get jabbed when they aren’t especially vulnerable to the disease.
“If COVID-19 still exists when I’m 50 or 60, then yes, I’ll get vaccinated,” he said.
He said getting regular tests to prove he isn’t infected wasn’t an option as he risks a positive result that means he could not work.
“Security guards told me that even if I am the person organising the party, if I’m positive, I can’t get into my own event,” the 28-year-old added.
Fake health passes are said to be “untraceable” and are also available for purchase on other social media, such as Facebook.
Fraudsters use real basic information, including a French health system number, to produce a real functioning pass.
One said: “I sent all the information to my doctor contact who registers it.”
The details are inputted into the French national health system database to produce a health pass in the mobile phone application.
Health workers – some complicit, others hacked – enters the information to show that someone is considered fully vaccinated by the authorities.
This means the fraudulent health passes are in fact real and not fake, meaning when the QR code is scanned by security guards it will pass.
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One doctor is southwestern France has filed a complaint after discovering his profile in the health insurance website had been used to generate 55 fake passes.
Prices for the fake passports range from between £119 to £298, with some counterfeiters even accepting payment after delivery to reassure would-be customers.
The national health system has warned that it has received an increased number of queries from police investigating fraudsters.
The counterfeiters face prison terms of up to five years and fines of up to £128,000.
Those caught using fake health passes could also spend up to three years in prison.
Several people have already been charged so far for health pass fraud.
The authorities are focused on catching fraudsters creating false vaccination records in the health system rather than people selling completely fake QR codes.
One woman, who worked at a vaccine centre, received a one-year prison sentence for creating around 200 codes for sale.
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