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Extra health measures as Covid-19 situation worsens in France

The French prime minister has unveiled a series of extra restrictions as the country struggles to keep control of the number of new Covid-19 cases.

Extra health measures as Covid-19 situation worsens in France
Prime minister Jean Castex announced the measures on a visit to Montpellier. Photo: AFP

Although the death rates for Covid-19 cases remain low in France – 15 people died in hospital over the last 24 hours – politicians and health experts have become increasingly worried about the steady rise in new cases.

The country has greatly expanded its testing programme in recent weeks, but experts say that more testing alone cannot account for the rise, which has seen more than 1,000 new cases reported for several days.

After a meeting of the country's Defence Council, prime minister Jean Castex unveiled a series of measures.

Speaking on a visit to the CHU hospital in Montpellier, he announced that he would be asking each local authority to draw up its own plan for increasing restrictions on daily life should it become necessary.

MAP In which areas of France are Covid-19 cases rising?

“Every Préfet must develop a targeted plan in their département,” Castex said.

These local plans would include all the measures taken to limit the spread of the virus, the PM said. He listed “preventive health rules, mask-wearing, mandatory declarations of all gatherings of more than 10 people, controls of mask-wearing in enclosed spaces” as points that needed to be included in these plans.

He has previously said that France will not repeat its strict nationwide lockdown, but could bring in local lockdowns if necessary in places where the situation was getting out of control.

He also announced

  • The ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people will be extended until October 30th
  • Policing will be stepped up to enforce rules already in place around social distancing, mask-wearing and gatherings of more than 10 people
  • Bars and cafés could face temporary closure if their customers repeatedly fail to respect distancing rules
  • The rule on wearing masks in the street could become nationwide as the PM urged local authorities to follow the example of the 330 communes – including Paris – that already have such rules in place.
  • A further extension of testing facilities with easier access 

MAP Where in France is it compulsory to wear a mask in the street?

“The number of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions are on the rise. Twenty-five new clusters are identified every day, against around five per day three weeks ago. All of this is worrying,” Castex said.

“If we do not react collectively, there’s a high risk that the epidemic will resume in a way that will be difficult to control.

“Avoiding going backwards, a major return to lockdown measures, it's essential and it's within our reach. We need to be focused and pull ourselves together.”

France's health ministry said on Monday that 10,800 new coronavirus cases had been identified in the past week, and warned that “circulation of the virus is intensifying, notably among young people and in certain regions such as the metropolitan areas of Paris and Marseille.”

It said mask wearing was “a gesture of common sense” in crowded places and when a safe physical distance between people cannot be observed.

“Adolescents and young adults, less at risk of developing serious forms of the disease, can contribute to spreading it and infecting their loved ones – parents, grandparents and other vulnerable people for whom the consequences could be serious,” the ministry said.

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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