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VACCINE

French PM says he will get AstraZeneca shot ‘very quickly’ if suspension lifted

French Prime Minister Jean Castex on Tuesday vowed he would be vaccinated "very quickly" with the AstraZeneca Covid-19 vaccine to give the public confidence in the jab if it is ruled as safe by the EU medicines agency.

French PM says he will get AstraZeneca shot 'very quickly' if suspension lifted
French PM Jean Castex. Photo: Alain Jocard/AFP

Castex, 55, said that as a person of his age with no underlying health conditions he had been ready to wait his turn until later in the year for a vaccination, but had changed his mind to help restore confidence in AstraZeneca’s shot.

“I have decided that it would be wise if I was vaccinated very quickly once the suspension, as I hope, is lifted and all the guarantees are given, to show my fellow citizens that the vaccine is the way out of this crisis and can be taken in all security,” he told BFM TV in a live interview.

France is vaccinating in a strict priority order which currently includes healthcare workers, over 75s and people aged 50-74 with an underlying health condition.

Politicians are expected to abide by the rules, and so far the only politician who has been publicly vaccinated is Health Minister Olivier Véran, who is a doctor and qualifies for vaccination as a health worker.

READ ALSO When will you be eligible for a Covid vaccine in France?

France, Germany and 12 other European countries have suspended the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine as a precaution pending a ruling Thursday by the European Medicines Agency following reports of blood clots.

“If there is the slightest doubt among my fellow citizens we have to lift it. We are awaiting the opinion of the EMA and once we have it we will follow it,” the prime minister said.

“I think the opinion will be positive and… we can restore a full confidence in this vaccine.”

Covid-19 infections are stubbornly high in France, which has not imposed any nationwide lockdown since last year, as pressure on hospitals in the Paris region forces the government to think about tightening its measures.

Castex indicated that new restrictions could be put in place for the Paris region, such as the weekend lockdowns already imposed in the Nice and Calais regions.

“We are in a worrying and critical situation and, clearly, measures of the type that have been used in other parts of the territory are on the table,” he 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 90,000 per day, with 133,000 recorded in the past 24 hours – 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 67 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – up 32 percent from last week.

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 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 and the Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has also recommended this. 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. In recent days several public transport operators have changed their messaging from saying that masks are merely recommended to be ‘strongly recommended for the protection of everyone’.

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.”

A recent poll for the Journal du Dimanche newspaper showed that 71 percent of people are in favour of making masks compulsory on public transport again.

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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