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COVID-19

‘Take a test’: The official Covid recommendations for Christmas in France

While the French government has not brought in any strict limits on family gatherings or banned work functions, the country's lead scientists as well as ministers have laid out some recommendations to follow.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex gesticulates while standing behind a lectern at a press conference
Photo: Thomas Samson / POOL / AFP

What the scientists say

Jean-François Delfraissy, head of France’s influential Scientific Council told the Senate in the French Parliament on December 9th that it would be necessary, like last year, to respect barrier gestures and ensure vulnerable family members are kept safe over the holiday period. He also recommended that people should take a Covid-19 test before any seasonal family get-togethers.

His comments echoed those of fellow Conseil scientifique member Professor Arnaud Fontanet, who last week called on families to limit Christmas Eve gatherings to ‘six people rather than 12’, during an interview on France Inter.

The Conseil Scientifique reiterated Delfraissy’s comments to the Senate in a report published on December 13th.

For “family gatherings such as Christmas dinners” it recommends, “limiting the number of participants, ensuring that vulnerable people have received their booster dose, airing the premises regularly by opening a window or door for 10 minutes every hour if possible, and to performing a self-test on the same day, or an antigenic test the day before or a self-test on the day of the event”.

It has also recommended, “immediately renouncing gatherings in enclosed areas where wearing a mask is not possible or appropriate, especially all gatherings that involve drinking and eating”.

The council also said companies should cancel all Christmas work gatherings and encourage employees to work from home where possible. It also said anyone with symptoms that could be Covid-19 should stay home.

Finally the council advised the public against attending any large scale events over the festive period that could lead to “giant clusters” or so-called super-spreader events due to the how easily the new Omicron variant seems to spread.

“Even slight reinforcement of [personal] barrier measures”, such as using wearing a facemask, maintaining distance from others in public areas and using hand sanitiser, could have “a very important impact” on the current wave of infections, it added. 

Why is it saying this?

Health authorities expect an “increase in hospital admissions of patients” related to the fifth wave caused by the Delta variant of Covid-19. A peak of more than 2,000 admissions per day is expected, close to the level seen in the second wave in autumn 2020, while the Omicron variant is “spreading extremely rapidly”.

Faced with this ‘double threat’, the Scientific Council has urged French people to cut the times they are in company in the lead-up to Christmas and to stay at home if they are showing symptoms of Covid-19.

What the politicians have said

French Prime Minister Jean Castex and Minister of Health Olivier Véran earlier detailed measures to stem the fifth wave of the Covid-19 pandemic.

“The situation demands an individual as well as a collective effort,” Castex said in a televised address in early December, as he made a direct appeal for people to take personal responsibility for their health and the health of others as Christmas approaches.

But, with 90 percent of the eligible French population vaccinated against Covid-19 and millions more making appointments for a third (booster) dose, “it’s no longer the time for lockdowns”, he said in a message that advocated “vigilance” without “giving in to panic”.

READ ALSO France to close nightclubs and encourage more home-working to fight Covid surge

Christmas parties

“We have all had a tendency to lower our guard [recently],” Castex said as he called on the French to “lift the pedal” on social interactions, such as office parties in the days and weeks before the holidays. 

“My message is very simple: until the end of the year, we ease off … we stop, we protect ourselves and thus protect our ability to enjoy Christmas,” said the Prime Minister, who recently contracted the virus and had to isolate.

As such, there has been no official government ban on seasonal office or private get-togethers. Castex appealed for people to be sensible, to cut pre-Christmas office parties where possible and wear masks as necessary, with the aim to make sure that family celebrations can go ahead as planned.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal clarified on France Inter radio: “This may be the start of a slowdown in the growth of the epidemic. We must continue our efforts and prudence, this will allow us to save the holidays.”

“What we want is that the French can spend Christmas with their families.”

The Conseil Scientifique’s later advice backs up that stance.

Nightclubs, bars and restaurants

Nightclubs in France are now closed for four weeks over the Christmas period, but no additional mandatory limits have been placed on bars, cafes and restaurants, beyond the requirement that customers carry a valid health pass. Diners in restaurants can only remove their masks when seated at their table. 

Health pass rules also apply to Christmas markets in towns and cities across the country.

Attal said the reason that, with the exception of the nightclub closures – because they are more usually frequented by younger people who are driving the current rise in cases – no further restrictions are currently considered necessary because “the efforts, the barrier gestures, vaccination and the booster dose, they’re paying off”.

So, bars, cafes and restaurants remain open, as normal, with health pass rules, and shows and events can still go ahead – but expect venues to be even more vigilant on health passes.

But the Conseil Scientifique has now called on people to avoid large gatherings if possible.

Member comments

  1. Can we stop testing now please exept in hospitals and only count deaths? And only those who were vaccinated and unexpected to die without covid, yes thousends every year die from the normal seasonal flu as well, we always accepted that!

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The Minister of Health, Brigitte Bourguignon, said she is “asking the French to wear masks on public transport once again” during an interview with RTL on Monday, June 27th. She also recommended wearing a mask in all other enclosed crowded areas, as a “civic gesture.” However, she did not refer to the request as a government mandated obligation.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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