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French cinemas, museums and sports venues began asking visitors Wednesday to furnish proof of Covid-19 vaccination or a negative test as the country, which is in the throes of a fourth wave of infections, rolled out a controversial vaccine passport system.

The so-called "health pass" is required for all events or places with more than 50 people before being extended to restaurants, cafes and shopping centres in August.

Prime Minister Jean Castex defended the policy, noting that nearly all new infections are in people who have not been immunised.

The number of new infections over 24 hours shot up to 21,000 on Wednesday, the highest level since early May.

“The world is facing a new wave, and we must act," Prime Minister Jean Castex said.

The solution is “vaccination, vaccination, vaccination," Castex said Wednesday on TF1 television, urging his compatriots to sign up for vaccine injections to avoid new lockdowns. Of France’s 18,000 new coronavirus cases reported Tuesday, 96% involved people who were unvaccinated, he said.

But people opposed to vaccines and being asked to present passes showing their immunity status are growing increasingly vocal. A group of protesters attending an anti-pass demonstration in the Alpine city of Chambery broke away and entered the town hall, removing a portrait of French President Emmanuel Macron from a wall and taking it away.

“The city of Chambery condemns this intrusion with the greatest firmness," the local government said in a statement.

At the Eiffel Tower, masked workers scanned QR codes on digital health passes and checked printed vaccine or test certificates. The pass requirement took effect Wednesday at cultural and tourist sites in France, following a government decree.

Attitudes toward the requirement were mixed.

“I wanted to come here with my mom so I had to take to the test to be able to travel," said Juan Truque, an accountant visiting from Miami, who is not vaccinated. “They are forcing you to wear face masks and do similar kinds of things that are some kind of impositions .. to me that are violations to your freedom."

With inputs from agencies

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