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What can we expect from the new Covid restrictions in France?

France's health minister Olivier Véran will hold a press conference on Thursday where he will announce a tightening of restrictions as Covid cases rise - here's what we can expect.

Health minister Olivier Véran will give a press conference on Thursday.
Health minister Olivier Véran will give a press conference on Thursday. Photo: Thomas Coex/AFP

*To get the latest on the possible new Covid measures in France you can read our updated story HERE.

There is a worrying uptick in Covid-19 cases in France with the current daily average of new infections standing at more than 18,000 – up 84 percent from last week.  Admissions into intensive care are up 35 percent and deaths are up 54 percent.

READ ALSO What is driving the explosion of Covid cases in France?

After a meeting of the Defence Council on Wednesday, government spokesman Gabriel Attal announced that consultations with local authorities about extra measures are now ongoing and a press conference was scheduled for Thursday at midday.

This follows the publication of advice on extra measures from the Scientific Council.

Here’s what we can expect;

Further accelerate vaccination

In France 77.1 percent of the total population and 89.6 percent of the eligible population (aged 12 or above) are vaccinated with at least one dose.

But that still leaves ten percent of the eligible population who are yet to have a single dose – a figure that rises to 13 percent among the over 80s, who are at greater risk anyway because of their age. 

On Saturday, France’s national Scientific Council called on the government to “reinforce first-vaccination efforts, as unvaccinated people are ten times more likely to need hospitalisation and intensive care”. 

READ ALSO Who gets a Covid vaccine booster shot in France?

Expand booster shots

The government already uses the health pass to push people into getting vaccinated and is also pushing a booster dose campaign.

From December 15th, the health passes of over 65s who are eligible for a booster but have not had one will be deactivated. Close to a third of over 65s have already received their third shot. 

Booster doses will be made available to the over 50s from December and it is possible that the government will expand eligibility to other age groups soon. 

Vaccinate children

Another decision on the table is whether to expand the vaccination programme to under 12s. Children aged 6-10 have seen a huge increase in case rates in recent weeks, which is thought to be a factor in the general rise in case numbers.

This is unlikely to be announced this week, as the government will require advice from the medical regulator Haut autorité de Santé, but is likely to be under consideration.

Health pass

The health pass will remain in place and checks on health passes will be stepped up, Attal has announced.

In addition to the deactivation of passes for those who are eligible for a booster but don’t get it, some medics are already calling for the testing option for unvaccinated people to be scrapped.

Stricter mask rules 

For now, the national government has been reluctant to enforce mask wearing in venues where the health pass is used – but that may change. 

The Scientific Council has also called for the government to reintroduce compulsory mask wearing in certain places. 

These rules were relaxed in the autumn, when the government announced that children would not need to wear masks in primary schools in départements with low covid infection rates, although the mask rule was reintroduced on November 15th in schools.

In many areas local authorities have imposed extra mask rules, including for outdoor public spaces and in health pass venues.

READ ALSO Where in France is reintroducing mask rules?

In 26 of France’s 101 départements, local authorities have made masks obligatory even outside according to Sud-Ouest

In many places, masks will also be obligatory at Christmas markets, while they are also required in ski resorts over the winter. 

More working from home

The government has not ruled out a return to guidelines that encouraged businesses to bring in remote working – a measure that the Scientific Council supports. 

The Labour Minister, Élisabeth Borne, has repeatedly called on businesses to respect social distancing measures where possible. The current health protocol says only that businesses should should engage in dialogue with employees to determine the best home working policies.

READ ALSO Télétravail: What are the rules as French workers return to the office?

The number of businesses that have at least one day of home working per week has been steadily declining – with 10 percent in September compared to 19 percent in August. 

Limited social contact

The government has been pretty unequivocal on this one, with government spokesman Gabriel Attal saying: “There is absolutely no lockdown planned for today, soon, or far into the future,” although he did add: “But nothing is ruled out in principle”. 

READ ALSO France ‘can manage fifth Covid wave without extra restrictions’

The Scientific Council calls only for “limitations on gatherings” in its advice, without going into more detail.

Choosing to impose such measures shortly before Christmas would likely be an unpopular political move. But a degrading public health situation would also open the government to criticism. 

A change to testing policy 

Covid tests for “convenience” – ie in order to use the health pass – are no longer free for unvaccinated people – a move that was designed to encourage people to get vaccinated.

The Scientific Council says this is no bad thing, but has also said that people experiencing symptoms should get tested as quickly as possible. Tests for those with symptoms or contact cases remain free, and the Council has called on the government to launch a national communications campaign to reinforce this message.  

READ ALSO How tourists and visitors in France can get a Covid test

The Scientific Council has also called on testing to be reinforced in schools. Given that children under the age of 12 are not eligible to get vaccinated, there is a fear that the virus is spreading rampantly though primary school classrooms. 

Member comments

  1. It is all very well having the health pass but I would estimate that 50% of the bars / restaurants we have visited have NOT checked our health pass. Know of people unvaccinated who have been easily able to go to bars and restaurants knowing that that a pass is not necessary. It is not really the vaccinated people who are at risk because they have a level of immunity. It is totally irresponsible for restaurants etc to allow people in who do not follow the guidelines

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ENERGY

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

As energy prices soar around Europe, France is the notable exception where most people have seen no significant rise in their gas or electricity bills - so what lies behind this policy? (Hint - it's not just that the French would riot if their bills exploded).

EXPLAINED: Why are French energy prices capped?

On most international comparisons of rising energy prices, France is the outlier – but the government control of energy prices is not in fact a new policy and was in place well before the Russian invasion of Ukraine sent gas and electricity prices soaring.

At present prices for domestic gas are frozen at 2021 levels and electricity prices can only increase four percent per year. According to economy minister Bruno Le Maire, without these measures French bills would have risen by 60 percent for gas and 45 percent for electricity.

Both these measures – collectively known as the bouclier tarifaire (tariff shield) – are in place until at least the end of 2022, and could be extended into 2023.

The extension of the price shield was confirmed by parliament earlier in August – part of a €65 billion package of measures aimed at tackling the cost-of-living crisis – but had been in place for much longer.

Tariff shield

The reason that gas prices are frozen at 2021 levels is that the freeze came into effect on November 1st 2021 – well before Russia’s February 2022 invasion of Ukraine.

The measure was initially put in place to help people deal with the economic after-effects of the pandemic, but was extended in the spring of 2022, when electricity prices were also capped at four percent.

Price regulation

But although prolonged price freezes are unusual, the French government involvement in price-setting is completely normal and during non-freeze periods, a rate is set each month.

If you read French media (or The Local), you’ll notice regular articles on ‘what changes next month’ which include gas and electricity prices, usually expressed as a month-on-month percentage rise or fall. This refers to the maximum rate that utility companies are allowed to increase their charges per month.

The government-set rate refers to the basic price plan from EDF. Some people are on special deals or time-limited tariffs, so if their deal or payment plan ends and they go back onto the basic rate, they can see a rise above the government rate.

Around 85 percent of households in France get their electricity from EDF. 

READ MORE: Reader Question: Why did my French electricity bill increase by more than 4%

State-owned utilities

So, why is the government involved? Well, it’s the majority stakeholder in EDF, the country’s largest electricity supplier, and owns Gaz de France (Engie). 

At present EDF isn’t completely state owned – although there are plans to fully nationalise it – but it owns 84 percent.

The French state owns a lot of service and utility companies including the country’s rail provider SNCF, postal service La Poste and France Télévisions. One notable exception is the country’s autoroutes, which are run by private companies, although the government sets limits on toll charges. 

Nuclear 

France is less exposed to energy shocks than some other European countries because of its nuclear sector.

It is unusual among European nations in the size of its nuclear industry – around 70 percent of electricity comes from its own domestic nuclear power plants, although during the heatwave several plants have had to lower output as rivers have become too hot to effectively cool the reactors. There are also ongoing technical issues that have seen some of the older plants shut down or forced to lower output.

READ ALSO Why is France so obsessed with nuclear?

France is usually a net exporter of electricity, but at peak times it has to import electricity, usually via the high-priced international spot market.

It does, however, import its gas, mostly via pipeline – in 2020 its biggest supplier was Norway, followed by Russia.

The French government has launched a sobriété energetique (energy sobriety) plan to cut its total energy consumption by 10 percent this year, which it hopes will allow it to get through the winter without Russian gas. 

Riots

Even before the recent €65 billion aid package, the French government was taking a pro-active role in helping people deal with rising prices – from the price shield to fuel rebates for drivers, €100 grants for low-income households and financial aid for industries such as agriculture and logistics so they could avoid passing prices on the consumers.

Cynics say this happened for two reasons – because there were elections in April and June and because the French would riot if their utility bills suddenly doubled.

There’s a kernel of truth in both – cost of living became a major issue in the April presidential elections and one that far-right leader Marine Le Pen very much made her own from early in the campaign, leaving Emmanuel Macron slightly on the back foot, although in truth his government had already introduced several measures to ease the burden on ordinary voters.

It’s also true that the French have a robust approach to holding their government to account, and high living costs have previously inspired noisy and sometime violent protests – the ‘yellow vest’ movement of 2018 and 19 began as a protest over living costs.

But it’s also true that the French State is generally quite involved in people’s everyday lives – as evidenced by those monthly gas and electricity price rates – and taking a laissez-faire approach such as that seen in the UK would be unusual for any French government, even outside of election season.

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