“We need to take our vigilance to another level once again,” government spokesperson Gabriel Attal announced during a press conference on Wednesday following a meeting of France’s Defence Council, which has the final decision on new health restrictions.
France is currently in the midst of a fourth wave of Covid-19 cases, averaging 22,500 new cases each day.
Although cases in mainland France appear to be plateauing, cases in the French Caribbean islands of Martinique and Gaudeloupe – where vaccination rates are low – are causing great concern. Both islands are facing a new lockdown.
Case rates per 100,000 inhabitants in each département on August 10th. Graphic: CovidTracker.
President Macron met with ministers on Wednesday to discuss the government’s response. Here is what was decided.
Health pass in certain shopping centres
Attal announced that the health pass will become obligatory to enter large shopping centres (more than 20,000 square metres) in areas where infection rates reach more than 200 cases per 100,000 inhabitants. That’s currently the case across the entire south coast, among other areas, and the infection rate across France as a whole on Tuesday was 235.
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French newspaper Le Parsien has put together a map of which shopping centres are affected.
— Le Parisien | économie (@leparisien_eco) August 11, 2021
The government had initially planned to require the health pass in all large shopping centres when it was extended on August 9th, but following discussions in parliament, the new law left the decision up to local authorities to decide whether they would ask malls to implement the pass or not, based on the local health situation.
Wednesday’s announcement represents a continuation of local restrictions, but with central government taking more control of exactly where they are applied.
“We will make sure possibilities to get vaccinated or tested are available in immediate proximity of shopping centres and the busiest venues,” Attal added.
Gabriel Attal annonce que le pass sanitaire sera exigé dans les grands centres commerciaux là où le taux d'incidence dépasse les 200 cas/100.000 habitants pic.twitter.com/KAtslQ0KQb
— BFMTV (@BFMTV) August 11, 2021
Obligatory masks in health pass venues
The government announced further measures for the parts of France where case rates are above 200 per 100,000 inhabitants.
“We will also ask prefects in these areas to make mask-wearing obligatory indoors in establishments hosting the public which require a health pass,” Attal said.
In areas with lower infection rates, people vising cafés, bars and restaurants do not need a mask, although people travelling on trains and coaches which require a health pass must still wear a mask.
Bars and restaurants, as well as local authorities, still have the possibility of asking visitors to wear a mask indoors regardless of local infection rates.
In outdoor venues which require a health pass, the mask will remain optional.
In reality, local authorities in many areas with high case rates have already introduced their own mask rules, many of which also require face masks in outdoor public spaces such as the street.
End to free tests
In his speech on July 12th announcing the extension of the health pass, President Macron also said that from the Autumn, ‘convenience’ Covid tests would no longer be free for French residents.
This is part of the government’s strategy to encourage people to get vaccinated, instead of taking a test every three days in order to use the health passport, but later announcements have indicated it will also apply to vaccinated people if they need tests to travel. The Local has requested a clarification on the system for fully vaccinated travellers.
On Wednesday, Attal provided more details. “We decided this morning to bring in the end to free tests, expect on medical prescription, which should take effect in mid-October,” he said.
Tests for medical reasons – which includes anyone with symptoms or anyone alerted as a contact case – will continue to be free.
Tourists in France already have to pay for Covid tests.
Whether for tourists or residents, costs are capped at €49 for a PCR test or €29 for an antigen test.
Booster shots for the vulnerable
Another measure which had already been announced is third vaccine jabs for elderly and vulnerable people.
Attal stated that this new vaccination campaign will begin in mid-September, with appointments opening up from the end of August or beginning of September.
French health authorities will soon draw up a list determining which sectors of the population are deemed to be vulnerable.