“The time to lift all restrictions has not come,” government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said during a press conference on Thursday, following a Defence Council meeting where members of the government discussed the best course of action.
President Emmanuel Macron had previously raised the possibility that the pass sanitaire (health passport) could eventually be lifted in areas where the virus was under control.
But any loosening of health pass restrictions will have to wait at least until November 15th, when the current rules expire, Attal announced.
The decision not to relax restrictions, even though France as a whole has now passed below the alert level of 50 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, was based on advise from the Scientific Council. The panel of scientists who advise the government “called on us to show caution, because we are entering the winter period”, where the virus is more likely to spread, Attal said.
In guidance communicated to the government on October 5th, the Scientific Council recommended delaying the lifting of the health pass until after a “period of preparation” between November 15th and the end of the year.
It said this would allow sufficient time to “analyse the impact of the drop in temperatures in the autumn”, and to focus on administering first and third vaccine doses “which need to be accelerated”. The decision highlighted the fact that 14 percent of people aged 80 and over were yet to be vaccinated, while only 35 percent of those eligible had received a third dose.
Moreover, this would allow health authorities to “better evaluate the impact of vaccination on infection in the medium term”. The protection against infection provided by vaccination is currently evaluated at 50 percent after six months, meaning it could be necessary to offer booster shots to the entire population.
The scientists also said delaying the decision would allow time to ensure the return to school and work in September had not had a significant impact on the circulation of the virus. So far fears of a spike in cases have not materialised. Daily infections have continued to fall, down to an average of 4,425.
Contradicting the President’s previous suggestions, Attal said lifting health pass rules was more likely to happen “at a national level”, with decisions taken “by sector”, rather than by geographical area.
The government is basing that judgement on the advice of its advisory body, which wrote: “Departmental or regional variations in the lifting of the health pass, according to epidemiological indicators, are ruled out by the Scientific Council.”
Not only would such variations become difficult to understand and keep track of, they could “lead to a feeling of unequal treatment between areas where the epidemiological situation is different, at the risk of bringing about lower rates of compliance with the health pass in regions where its use is most justified.”
Having considered several scenarios, including limiting the use of the pass to at-risk populations, the scientists came down in favour of limiting the pass to certain high-risk venues. In this scenario, the pass would no longer be required for certain activities, such as eating outside at a restaurant or taking a train, but it could continue to apply to indoor dining, bars, concerts and gyms.
In any case, there will be no changed before November 15th. The government is hoping to extend legislation allowing for the use of the health pass until summer 2022, but it could be phased out before then.
One gradual relaxation the the health rules has already begun, however, and that concerns the mask rule in schools.
Primary schools in 47 départements with low Covid rates have already scrapped the requirement for pupils to wear masks in the classroom, and another 21 areas will be added to this list on Monday, October 11th.
This is a geographical system, and is based on areas that have a stable incidence rate of less than 50 cases per 100,000 people.
Map with areas that have an incidence rate of 50 or below shown in green. Map: Covidtracker.fr