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QR code or health pass – how France plans to reopen its bars and restaurants

The French government has begun work on a plan to reopen the country's bars, cafés and restaurants, which have all been closed since October due to health restrictions.

QR code or health pass - how France plans to reopen its bars and restaurants
France is considering how to reopen its bars and cafés. Photo: Georges Gobet/AFP

When?

Don’t get too excited, the reopening is not imminent. In fact certain areas of France are currently facing more restrictions as the health situation worsens.

But even in areas where Covid numbers are low, there is no immediate plan to loosen restrictions such as the 6pm curfew and the closure of bars.

Health Minister Olivier Véran bluntly told the French parliament this week: “We know that for another four to six weeks, whatever happens, we won’t lower the level of restrictions in France.”

The government spokesman Gabriel Attal also spoke of starting to return to a normal life “from mid April”. 

No plan for reopening has been released but it is widely expected that cultural venues such as museums and galleries will reopen first, while the culture minister has planned three ‘experimental concerts’ in late March and early April under strict health conditions.

How?

The government has set up a ministerial committee whose role is to examine how France can reopen, once the health situation permits.

This committee has been consulting with representatives from the hospitality industry, who will meet with Prime Minister Jean Castex on Friday.

As well as methods for reopening, there will also be discussion on financial support for hospitality businesses once they reopen, as extra rules will in most cases lead to lower customer numbers.

Here are some of the ideas put forward:

Health pass – the idea of ‘vaccine passports’ for access to travel or leisure has proved quite controversial in France, especially as so many people are still waiting for an appointment for their Covid vaccines. While this is not expected to be introduced for access to bars and restaurants at this stage, President Emmanuel Macron has floated the idea of a pass sanitaire (health pass) for access to certain places. 

This pass as outlined by transport minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari could be an app on which people can upload recent negative Covid tests and fill out forms similar to the curfew attestation to declare that they have no Covid symptoms.

On the idea of making access conditional on being vaccinated, Macron clarified: “If we manage to reopen some places, we can not make their access conditional on vaccination, as we would not even have opened vaccination to the youngest groups”. 

QR codes – Each establishment would have its own QR code that customers would have to scan with a smartphone as they entered. This information would be linked to the TousAntiCovid app, which could then alert anyone who had been in the same bar or restaurant if a positive case was reported. This is reportedly popular with bar owners as it does not involve their staff, but obviously excludes people who do not own a smartphone.

Name and contact number checks – the less hi-tech version of the QR code is taking the name and contact details of every customer as they enter, to allow for contact tracing in the event of a positive case, however representatives of the industry are said to be hostile to the idea of their staff having to make these checks.

Lunch only – also proposed is a gradual reopening, initially during the daytime only. This eliminates issues with the 6pm curfew, but would require a more extensive support package for restaurants and cafés only able to offer a lunchtime service.

Regional reopening – local leaders in areas like Brittany, where case numbers are low, are understood to be pushing for a reopening in low-risk areas. However there are concerns that this would encourage people to travel from high-risk zones, thus spreading the virus.

Six person limit – when bars and restaurants were briefly open over the summer, there were a host of restrictions in place including mandatory 2-metre gaps between tables and limits of six people per table.

Hospitality businesses say they would still need financial support to cope with these measures, as it drastically limits how many customers they can accept, particularly in cities like Paris, where in normal times tables are crammed together in small spaces in cafés and on terraces.

Terraces only – the reopening of cafés in early summer 2020 began with outdoor spaces only and cities including Paris passed emergency legislation to allow cafés and bars to expand their outdoor terrace areas, in some place completely pedestrianising streets to allow this.

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COVID-19

Reader Question: When will the new dual-strain Covid vaccines be available in France?

The next generation of Covid vaccines have been designed to combat both the original strain of the virus that kicked off the pandemic in 2020, and later Omicron variants that are currently dominant around much of the world.

Reader Question: When will the new dual-strain Covid vaccines be available in France?

Reader question: I see the UK and the US have approved a new ‘dual-strain’ Covid vaccine – when will these be available in France?

On September 27th, Minister of Health, François Braun, told Franceinfo that the newly authorised dual-strain vaccines would be available for vulnerable people in France beginning on October 3rd. 

Currently, the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron sub-variants account for more than 95 percent of the confirmed cases in France, although experts are – as ever – cautious about the possibility of new variants emerging in the months to come.

Two so-called “bivalent” vaccines – one made by Pfizer and the other Moderna – that target both the original and omicron variants have been developed.

Dual-strain vaccines have been approved and put into use in both the United States and the United Kingdom.

France is part of the EU’s vaccine procurement programme and so far in the pandemic has waited for new vaccines to be approved by the European Medicines Agency (EMA) before using them in France.

The EMA approved three new dual strain vaccines – on September 8th it approved two Omicron adapted Covid-19 booster vaccines, made by Pfizer and Moderna, both of which target the BA.1 strain of the virus and on September 13th it approved Pfizer’s BA.4/BA.5 strain vaccine.

France’s national authority for health, the HAS (Haute autorité de santé) published a press release on September 20th saying that they have authorised “Pfizer and Moderna vaccines adapted to Omicron BA.1 and BA.5.”

Specifically, this concerns the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.1, the Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.1, and the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine adapted to BA.4/5. These vaccines ought to be available to populations eligible for a booster vaccine starting October 3rd.

The Moderna vaccine adapted to BA.4/5 “could be authorized by the end of September.”

It is planned to combine an autumn vaccine booster programme with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign, which begins October 18th. Full details on that here – Explained: France’s plan for autumn flu and Covid vaccine campaigns

Still under review by EMA is the “bivalent recombinant protein vaccine” which was developed by Spanish lab Hipra and reportedly confers protection against the BA.2, BA.4 and BA.5 subvariants of Omicron. It is intended as a booster dose for people aged 16 or over.

The European Commission announced in early August that it had signed a contract to acquire up to 250 million doses of this vaccine, once it is approved.

The autumn booster shot campaign has not yet begun and currently a second booster – a fourth dose for most people – of the Covid-19 vaccine is only available for certain groups of people.

In order to qualify, you must have received your first booster shot more than six months ago and be either:

  • Aged 60 or over
  • Aged 18-59 with a serious medical condition such as cancer patients, dialysis patients or transplant patients that puts you at high risk of developing the most serious forms of the virus
  • Aged 18-59 with a condition that puts you at higher risk of developing more serious forms of the virus. 
  • A pregnant woman
  • Either living with or in regular close contact with a person at high risk from the virus 

READ ALSO EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

So far in France, 32.5 percent of eligible 60-79 year olds have received a second booster dose, and 45.2 percent of those aged 80 and over, while 75.3 percent of those over 18 have received three doses of the vaccine. 

In August experts from the World Health Organisation recommended that those most at risk of the Covid-19 virus be offered a second booster dose.

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