Nine confirmed cases of Omicron Covid variant in France

Health authorities say there are now nine confirmed cases of the Omicron variant of Covid in France, all linked to travel to Africa, and the health minister says the strain has "probably been circulating for some weeks'.

The Omicron variant has now been detected in mainland France.
The Omicron variant has now been detected in mainland France. (Photo by Lionel BONAVENTURE / AFP)

The regional health authority of Île-de-France released a statement on Thursday morning noting the first confirmed case –  a resident of the Seine-et-Marne département in greater Paris who tested positive after arriving in France from Nigeria. 

By Friday morning nine cases had been confirmed, in the île-de-France, Haut-Rhin and Vendée regions, all linked to travel from Africa. 

Health minister Olivier Véran said on Friday that the variant had “probably been circulating for some weeks” in France and warned to expect more confirmed cases.

The Omicron variant, which had first been detected on the French overseas territory of La Réunion, in the Indian Ocean, has been described by the World Health Organisation as a “variant of concern”. 

It has been recorded in multiple European countries including Switzerland, Belgium and the UK since scientists in South Africa first reported the emergence of a new variant.

The WHO says that the variant is of ‘high risk’ because of its apparent transmissibility and because it may be able to resist immunity from previous infections and vaccinations, although it is not yet clear whether it makes people any more seriously ill than other strains of Covid. 

READ ALSO  Which countries has France placed on its ‘scarlet list’ for travel?

France has recently updated its travel rules for people from outside the EU, in part to prevent the Omicron from arriving on its shores. 


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French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.