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French government left embarrassed after 'vaccine pass' bill suspended

US Rep. Ilhan Omar (D-MN) (L) talks with Speaker of the House Nancy Pelosi (D-CA) during a rally with fellow Democrats before voting on H.R. 1, or the People Act, on the East Steps of the US Capitol on March 08, 2019 in Washington, DC. (AFP photo)
Members of parliament attend a session of questions to the government at the National Assembly, the lower house of France's parliament, in Paris, on January 4, 2022. (Photo by AFP)

French lawmakers have "unexpectedly suspended" a parliamentary debate on a controversial health pass, a move denounced by the government as a "procedural coup."

President Emmanuel Macron's ruling centrist party, which is one seat short of an absolute parliamentary majority, was embarrassed after opposition parties joined forces to hold up the bill on Tuesday.

The legislation would make it mandatory for people to show proof of being vaccinated – and not just a negative COVID test or proof one has recovered from COVID-19 – to access public venues and transport.

The debate, which was due to resume late Tuesday, was suspended after members of the Assemblée nationale voted with a show of hands to go home.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal denounced the debate suspension as a "procedural coup" by opposition lawmakers on Tuesday. He said they had sought 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 said.

Far-left presidential candidate Jean-Luc Mélenchon had called for the new legislation to be rejected. He accused Macron's government of having "sown indescribable chaos because of your short-sightedness."

The new legislation had been due to be implemented on January 15.

France is currently reporting an average of around 160,000 new COVID cases a day.

French Health Minister Olivier Veran told lawmakers that the country could reach close to a record 300,000 new daily cases.

"The tidal wave has indeed arrived. It's enormous, but we will not give in to panic," he told MPs.

Mélenchon had previously accused the health minister of "arrogance."

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