French police have uncovered 182,000 fake health passes since the documents were introduced this summer in a bid to control the spread of the coronavirus.
President Emmanuel Macron introduced the official passes in July, and they have become necessary to gain access to numerous venues, including bars, restaurants and many long-distance trains. They can be obtained through vaccination, recovery from covid-19 or a recent negative test.
Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin last week asked police to step up their investigations into the criminal networks or individuals behind the fake passes, as concerns grow about the highly contagious new omicron variant. On Monday, he said the fake documents were detected “as part of the 400 ongoing investigations.” The minister didn’t provide details on any arrests or individuals involved. He has previously said some cases had been traced to health professionals.
“Using, procuring or selling false health passes, in particular via social networks, is punishable by 5 years in prison and a 75,000 euro fine,” Darmanin said in a statement posted on Twitter. He has previously condemned the fake documents as “death passes.”
The introduction of France’s health pass prompted weeks-long nationwide protests this summer. Even though the rallies have shrunk in size, incidents of vandalism against vaccination centers and other sites continue to be reported.
The police crackdown on fake passes comes as France, and other nations, are tightening restrictions in the face of the highly transmissible omicron variant, which is spreading at lightning speed across the European continent.