PARIS (Reuters) – France’s vaccine pass will remain in place until hospitals are able to function normally without cancelling non-emergency procedures to make room for COVID patients in intensive care, Health Minister Olivier Véran said on Wednesday.

The government says the vaccine pass helps curb the spread of the coronavirus and has spurred more people to get the COVID shot, alleviating pressure on hospitals. Critics say it impinges on civil liberties and some have taken to the streets in protest.

“When we have emptied intensive care units, or at least … when there is no further cancellation of procedures and if no new variant is in circulation, then the utility of the vaccine pass will be debatable,” the minister told BFM TV.

France was still a way off that point, with 3,700 COVID patients in intensive care, Véran said, suggesting that number would need to come down to around 1,000 before the vaccine pass rules could be removed.

“In August we were at 1,000-1,200 and our hospitals were functioning normally,” Véran continued. “It’s an indispensable condition.”

Since mid-January, people in France have had to show proof of vaccination to enter bars, restaurants, cinemas and other public places. Previously, there had also been the option of showing a negative COVID test or proof of recent infection.

Asked whether France would require a second booster shot, Véran said it would depend on whether there were further mutations of the virus.

FILE PHOTO: A person, wearing a protective face mask, walks past a tent for rapid coronavirus disease (COVID-19) test in the streets of Paris, amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) pandemic, France, January 31, 2022. REUTERS/Violeta Santos Moura