A health pass sign at the entrance to the Chateau de Caen on July 20, 2021, in Caen, Calvados, Normandy. Photo: AFP / Artur Widak / NurPhoto

People wanting to go to cinemas, museums, sporting matches and other cultural venues in France will have to show proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a negative test starting Wednesday, as the country braces for a feared spike in cases from the highly transmissible Delta variant.

The so-called “health pass” will be required for all events or places with more than 50 people, before being extended to restaurants, cafes and shopping centers in August, President Emmanuel Macron announced in a televised address last week.

Once inside, however, people can take off their face masks, which remain necessary inside shops or businesses or on public transportation.

Masks are now mandatory outside again in the southern Pyrenees-Orientales department neighboring Spain, as well as in much of the western Charente-Maritime department near Bordeaux, a popular tourist spot, where case numbers are soaring.

Outdoor mask mandates were also reimposed Tuesday in Toulouse and other nearby towns.

Health Minister Olivier Veran warned of an unprecedented increase in Covid-19 cases because of the Delta variant on Tuesday, when 18,000 cases were reported over 24 hours.

“That means we have an increase in the spread of the virus of around 150% in the last week: we’ve never seen that,” Veran told parliament as it began debate on the stricter rules aimed at encouraging vaccine hold-outs.

The initial Covid-19 pass was implemented by decree, while lawmakers will vote on its extension to restaurants and trains or planes for long-distance travel.

From September, vaccinations will also be required for healthcare and retirement home workers, many of whom have been particularly wary or dismissive of the shots.

More than 100,000 people demonstrated across France on Saturday to protest against the health pass, denouncing a “dictatorship” that would discriminate against those opposed to the vaccine.

‘No time for doubts’

Covid-19 incidence rates now exceed the warning level of 50 per 100,000 people in Paris and across much of southern and western France, traditional vacation haunts for thousands of families.

But the government is hoping that widespread vaccination will soften the impact of a fourth wave of cases, that could again strain hospitals or require new lockdowns.

Millions of people have booked appointments for jabs since Macron’s address last week, and more than 37 million people (56% of the population) have had at least one of the two necessary doses.

By the end of July, 40 million people will have had at least one shot, a goal reached a month ahead of schedule, Prime Minister Jean Castex told lawmakers on Tuesday.

“This is no time for doubts and hesitation,” Veran said in parliament.

But in a sign of the passions unleashed by the tougher measures, two vaccination centers were vandalized over the past week and MPs from Macron’s Republic on the Move party have been the target of vitriol on social media.

Paris prosecutors said Tuesday that they were investigating death threats received by several lawmakers who have backed the new rules.

Prosecutors in the Mediterranean city of Toulon, meanwhile, opened a “public insults” inquiry over posters depicting Macron as Hitler saying “Obey, get yourself vaccinated.”