People who are unvaccinated already face a series of restrictions in France – in order to access a wide range of everyday venues including cafés, bars, restaurants, cinemas, leisure centres, gyms and long-distance travel a health pass is required.
The unvaccinated need to present a negative Covid test less than 72 hours old in order to use the pass, leaving them with a choice of getting regular tests – and a cost of €22 a time – or missing out on a range of leisure activities.
Meanwhile unvaccinated healthcare workers cannot work and face being suspended without pay.
Thanks in part to these measures France has one of the highest vaccination rates in Europe, confounding early scepticism about whether the French would accept the Covid vaccine.
But with cases increasing, albeit at a slower rate than many of France’s neighbours, the government is again considering whether extra measures are needed to slow the spread of the virus.
“We are at the beginning of a wave,” health minister Olivier Véran told Ouest-France on Tuesday.
(article continues below)
See also on The Local:
• 3 241 cas positifs ont été recensés en 24h, versus 2 197 lundi dernier (très peu de tests réalisés le dimanche).
— Nicolas Berrod (@nicolasberrod) November 15, 2021
“We are not yet in a so-called exponential phase, but we are very clearly at the start of a wave.”
“This wave is European. France is not escaping it, even if we are experiencing it in a delayed way and even very delayed compared to many of our neighbours because of our good vaccine coverage and the health pass.”
France is currently reporting a daily average of 10,172 new cases, a 40 percent increase on the previous week and a steady rise from the late September/early October period when cases were below 5,000 a day.
France is, however, seeing comparatively lower cases than many of its neighbours, which have a lower vaccination rate or fewer health rules in place.
“No return to lockdown is planned either now or in the immediate or long-term future,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Tuesday morning, although he did add that as a general principle nothing could be completely ruled out.
France’s Europe minister Clément Beaune echoed this government line, saying “we are not in a phase of generalised lockdowns in Europe.”
Previous lockdowns have been imposed only when hospitals were under severe pressure.
Widespread vaccination means that mainland France is seeing fewer hospitalisations and deaths from Covid, with 25 percent of intensive care beds currently occupied by Covid patients, compared to occupancy at or even above 100 percent during the first and second waves of cases in 2020.
But if there are no plans for ‘generalised’ measures, there is the possibility of more restrictions for the unvaccinated, following the lead of several other European countries.
One idea discussed is replacing the ‘health pass’ with a ‘vaccine pass’ – in other words removing the option for unvaccinated people to take a Covid test in order to use the pass.
This would impose a blanket ban on unvaccinated people visiting leisure and cultural venues such as bars, cinemas and restaurants as well as gyms and sports centres, large events and long-distance train travel.
Renaud Muselier, president of the southern Provence-Alpes-Côte d’Azur region, has been outspoken in favour of the idea, calling the unvaccinated “potential viral bombs”.
He told France Info: “We must move from a health pass to a vaccination pass.”
“We must ensure that those who are vaccinated with a third dose have access to life. It will allow those who want to live to live and not block everyone.”
“We are not going to stop our entire economic and social life because a few people do not want to be vaccinated.”
Several German and Austrian states have already imposed so-called 2G rules (where only proof of vaccination or recovery are accepted for the health pass), rather than 3G rules which also accept a negative Covid test.
Meanwhile in Austria, the government has imposed a new lockdown only on the unvaccinated.
While this has not been put forward as part of French government policy, several high-profile politicians including presidential hopefuls Valérie Pécresse and Xavier Bertrand have said they support the idea.
Economy minister Bruno Le Maire, while not advocating a lockdown of the unvaccinated, said: “Everything must be done to avoid a new lockdown. Let everyone take responsibility.”
A legal specialist interviewed by Le Parisien newspaper said lockdown of the unvaccinated would be “very difficult legally” in France, but added: “but we have seen so many things that seemed impossible since the beginning of this pandemic, that it could be possible if the health situation worsened.”
Over the border in Italy, the government has introduced a vaccine requirement for a range of public sector jobs. In France only healthcare workers are required to provide proof of vaccination in order to work
One measure that the government has already taken is to make booster shots compulsory in order to retain the health pass.
From December 15th, the health passes of over 65s will be deactivated six months and five weeks after they received their second dose – in effect giving people five weeks after they become eligible, to get the booster shot or be unable to use their health pass.
Boosters will from the beginning of December be extended to all over 50s, in addition to those who are already eligible – over 65s, people with health conditions, healthcare workers, those who are in close contact with an immunodeficient person and anyone who got the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
Travel rules have also been tightened up for unvaccinated arrivals from 16 EU countries with high Covid case rates.
Unvaccinated people travelling from the UK and USA – which are on France’s orange list – can only enter the country if they fit the criteria for ‘essential travel’.