France reaches one million mark for vaccinations as new lockdown looms

France reached the milestone of one million people vaccinated on Saturday, the PM announced but rising infections meant a new lockdown looked increasingly likely.

France reaches one million mark for vaccinations as new lockdown looms
Illustration photo: JEAN-PHILIPPE KSIAZEK / AFP

French PM Jean Castex announced on Saturday that the country had given the first dose of the Covid-19 vaccine to one million people.

The government was widely criticised for its slow roll out of the vaccine but nevertheless hit the million target earlier than the end of January as originally planned.

In a Twitter message Castex thanked all those working on the campaign to vaccinate the French public including health workers, elected officials and regional health authorities. 

French health minister Olivier Véran said on Friday that the government aims to vaccinate everyone in France by August if the necessary vaccines are delivered on time.

Lockdown 'likely'

A French government source has told AFP that “the hypothesis of a new lockdown is more and more likely,” citing projections of a surge in cases due to the more transmissible British strain.

A slow but steady increase in most of the key health data in France has left many expecting a third lockdown will soon come.

In the last health briefing on January 14th, the government decided against reimposing lockdown and instead imposed a 6pm to 6am curfew on the whole of mainland France in an attempt to keep case numbers under control.

As well as the 6pm to 6am curfew, there are currently closures for bars, restaurants, cafés, gyms, museums, cinemas and theatres until at least February.

Restrictions have also been tightened on arrivals from the UK in an attempt to contain the new variant of the virus first identified there.

And there are now tight travel rules for those who arrive by plane or boat from EU countries that impose negative tests prior to travel and quarantine after arrival.

Ski resorts are also likely to remain closed for the rest of the winter.

READ ALSO: IN NUMBERS: Is France heading for a third lockdown and, if so, when?

Vaccination spacing extended

On Saturday, France's national health authority also said it would be “reasonable” to extend the time between people being given the first and second Covid-19 vaccinations to six weeks from three in order to increase the number getting inoculated.

The gap between the first and second injection in France is currently three weeks for people in retirement homes, who take priority, and four weeks for others such as health workers.

The Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS) said spacing out the two required vaccinations of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Moderna vaccines would allow the treatment of at least 700,000 more people in the first month.

“The growing number of infections and the worrying arrival of new variants call for an acceleration of the vaccination campaign in order to prevent the epidemic from spiking in coming weeks,” HAS said in a statement, Reuters reported.

HAS said that while there was no agreement between different countries about the optimal time-lag between the two shots, it seemed reasonable to delay the second injection to six weeks as the first shot would already provide protection against the coronavirus from the 12th or 14th day after the injection.



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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.