Covid cases in France remain the lowest they have been in a year, but after weeks of falling, case numbers are now beginning to rise again.
Although the rise is as yet relatively small, there are fears over the faster-spreading and more transmissible delta variant of the virus, which over the weekend became the dominant strain in France and which has driven a huge increase in case numbers in the UK, as well as parts of Spain and Portugal.
Weekly French vax thread.
President Macron will speak at 8pm on Monday to announce, inter alia, action against the Delta variant. Although cases remain low, they are rising v. fast (over 4,000+ daily). Delta is now more than half new cases – compared to 30% a week ago.
— John Lichfield (@john_lichfield) July 10, 2021
Health experts now accept that a fourth wave, once predicted for the autumn, has already begun in France and an extra meeting of the Defence Council has been called for Monday morning.
It is against this context that the president’s Elysée Palace has announced that Macron will address the nation at 8pm on Monday. So what can we expect?
Previous TV appearances from the president have heralded a return to lockdown, but this seems very unlikely this time. Notwithstanding the concerns about the delta variant, case numbers remain low with a weekly average of 5,000 cases a day – previous lockdowns were imposed only when cases reached around 50,000 a day.
Hospitalisations remain low and the hope is that with a significant portion of the population vaccinated they will stay that way.
Data from the UK – which has been recording more than 35,000 cases a day but where a higher percentage of the population is vaccinated – shows an increase in hospitalisations for Covid, but a much lower increase than in previous waves of the virus.
France has a traffic light system in place which gives greater travel freedoms to fully vaccinated travellers. But with several of its neighbours, including the UK and Spain, recording worrying spikes in cases, it’s possible that tougher travel restrictions could be reimposed in an attempt to slow the spread of the delta variant.
Europe minister Clément Beaune, speaking last week, advised the French to ‘avoid Portugal and Spain’ for holidays this summer.
Health passport extension
The French pass sanitaire (health passport) is already up and running and is used for access to larger events like concerts and sports matches, but the government is now said to be considering extending this to venues like cinemas, bars and cafés.
The health passport, available on the Tous Anti Covid app, can show proof that a person is either fully vaccinated, has recently recovered from Covid or has tested negative in the past 72 hours.
It was launched with a declaration that it would not be used for ‘everyday activities’ like going to the gym or a café, but faced with the possibility of a fourth wave, the government is now considering whether extending the health passport would be a way to avoid further closures or lockdown restrictions.
It’s been just a month since the mask rules in France were relaxed, making mask-wearing no longer compulsory in outdoor public spaces like the streets, although they remain the rule in all indoor public spaces.
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However fears over the delta variant have lead some local authorities, including in the town of Nice, to reimpose mask-wearing in the street. It’s possible the president could bring the rule back on a nationwide basis, as another option to slow the spread of the virus while avoiding having to close down businesses again.
Another tricky question that the government has been wrestling with is making the Covid vaccine compulsory for certain groups.
A sensitive subject in a nation with a high level of vaccine scepticism, the idea of making the vaccine compulsory for healthcare workers has nevertheless been backed by various medical groups, while polls show that a majority of people are in favour of the idea.
The vaccine has been available for health workers since February, yet vaccination rates in healthworkers are lower than in the same age groups of the general population, with just 60 percent of healthcare assistants and carers in nursing homes fully vaccinated.
Whatever the announcement on compulsory vaccination, it’s likely that the president will echo previous statements by ministers in urging people – particularly young people – to get vaccinated.
The health ministry has unveiled a package of measures aimed at making getting the vaccine easier, from walk-in vaccine centres to allowing people to get second dose appointments while on holiday, but the rate of first dose appointments has fallen in recent weeks as the French head off on holiday.
Of particular concern is the 20-29 age group, which is seeing a large rise in cases.
Le taux d'incidence est de nouveau (quasiment) à 100 chez les 20-29 ans. Évolution en une semaine ⤵️
— Nicolas Berrod (@nicolasberrod) July 11, 2021
There has also been discussion of other measures intended to encourage people to get vaccinated, such as making ‘convenience Covid tests’ such as pre-travel tests free only for the fully vaccinated.
Elysée sources have told French media that the president will not only be speaking about the pandemic in this speech, but will be focusing on other topics, possibly laying out the framework of reforms he wants to make in the final months of his presidential term before elections in April 2022.
He is also expected to make an announcement on contentious pension reforms.
The Local will be following Macron’s announcement live, from 8pm, here.