French President Macron pledges no ‘unjustifiable delays’ in Covid jabs

French President Emmanuel Macron vowed Thursday Deccember 31, to avoid "unjustifiable delays" in efforts to immunise citizens against Covid-19 following criticism over the slow pace of the inoculation campaign.

French President Macron pledges no 'unjustifiable delays' in Covid jabs
Image: Stephane de Sakutin / AFP

But in his New Year's address to the nation Macron also struck a defensive note, saying he would let “no-one play with the safety” of the vaccination drive.

With France's vaccination programme so far paling in comparison to many other EU countries, Macron – who has himself just recovered from Covid-19 – is under pressure to step up the pace.

Since Sunday, fewer than 200 people have been given the Pfizer-BioNTech jab in France, compared to 78,000 in Germany.

The government had defended the pace, saying that officials were taking time to win over a vaccine-sceptical nation by giving patients time to consider their choices.

But shortly before Macron's speech, Health Minister Olivier Veran announced plans to expand the campaign which so far has solely targeted care-home residents and health workers aged over 65.

Veran said that from Monday health workers aged over 50 could also get the jab – much sooner than initially planned. The race to immunise the population gained increased urgency following the
announcement Thursday that a South African variant of coronavirus, feared to be more contagious, had been detected in France.

The news came less than a week after France confirmed it had also recorded its first case of a new strain blamed for a spike of infections in Britain.

The pandemic has claimed 64,632 lives in France, where bars, restaurants and cultural and sporting venues remain closed two weeks after the end of a second nationwide lockdown.

“This year 2020 has been difficult,” Macron, who was forced by the virus to put his reform drive on the back burner, acknowledged. “But together we emerge more united,” he said.

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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


The Minister of Health, Brigitte Bourguignon, said she is “asking the French to wear masks on public transport once again” during an interview with RTL on Monday, June 27th. She also recommended wearing a mask in all other enclosed crowded areas, as a “civic gesture.” However, she did not refer to the request as a government mandated obligation.

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.