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COVID-19 RULES

What new Covid measures could the French government announce on Friday?

A high level meeting pulling together French President Emmanuel Macron, government ministers and scientific advisors will meet on Friday to discuss possible new measures for tackling the Covid pandemic.

French hospitals are under increasing pressure from the fifth wave of the virus.
French hospitals are under increasing pressure from the fifth wave of the virus. The government may announce new measures on Friday. (Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP)

An afternoon meeting of France’s Health Defence Council on Friday could herald new Covid restrictions, just as schools are breaking up in France. The meeting had been planned for next week but has been brought forward in what many commentators see as a sign of urgency. 

Earlier in the week, Health Minister Olivier Véran predicted that around 4,000 people would be lying in French intensive care units over the festive period whilst the government spokesman Gabriel Attal warned that new measures could be announced. 

The big announcement by the French government on Thursday was of course the new rules on travel between France and the UK but it looks like more announcements will be made on Friday.

So what kind of measures could be brought in just before Christmas?

More travel restrictions

After the restrictions introduced for the UK on Thursday the French government may also introduce further travel restrictions perhaps even on entry from EU countries. Certain countries like Denmark and Norway have seen huge spikes in infections caused by the Omicron variant. 

France may try to limit entry from these countries in a bid to delay a similar spike in France. 

Booster dose acceleration  

The French government has been trying to accelerate the uptake of vaccination – and booster doses in particular. 

On Thursday, Véran floated the idea of reducing the mandatory waiting time between second and third doses to four months rather than t he current limit of five.

“It is an idea I find interesting,” he told French media, but said it was not his decision alone to make.

READ ALSO How to get a Covid-19 booster dose appointment in France

New Christmas holiday guidelines 

It is likely that the government will adopt the recommendations of the Scientific Council which were made public earlier in the week. 

This would see new guidelines for Christmas gatherings. 

“For family reunions such as Christmas meals, it is recommended that the number of attendees is limited, that vulnerable people have received a booster dose, that rooms are regularly aired and that self-tests are conducted the day of the gathering or that a antigen test is completed on the eve or on the day of the event,” wrote the Council in a statement

READ ALSO Your questions answered on new travel rules between France and UK

On Thursday, Véran also added that families should take care to ensure that each person seated at a table has a reasonable degree of space between themselves. 

He insisted however that families would be able to celebrate Christmas together. It is likely that any announcements related to festive gatherings will be guidelines rather than legally enforced rules. 

In the lead up to Christmas, the government has already recommended that people avoid parties and social gatherings where mask wearing is difficult. Masks are currently obligatory in all indoors public spaces in France. 

Conditional amnesty for people using fake health passes 

Around 110,000 people in France are currently using fake health passes to avoid vaccination. This is currently punishable with a hefty fine. 

Véran wants those using fake passes to be able to get vaccinated and has recommended amnesty for those who want to do so. 

“For French people with fake passes, I think that there is a health emergency. I want us to be able to work towards a framework that would allow a ‘system of repenting’, that would let people with a fake pass follow the rules without punishment,” he told the National Assembly on Wednesday. 

“It is urgent that people get vaccinated and protected. We cannot stop people from getting vaccinated because they have a fake health pass.'”

Such a measure would not likely have a drastic measure in stemming the immediate spread of Covid over the Christmas period but would likely have long-term benefits. 

Free home testing kits

French media reports suggest that the government is planning to make Covid-19 home tests free, for vaccinated people. 

Covid tests have not been free since mid-October – except for vaccinated people, people showing symptoms and minors. 

The idea of making home testing free is to help people living in isolated areas, far from testing sites. The other logic behind the hypothetical move is simply to encourage people to get tested before family gatherings over the festive period. 

Self testing kits allow users to perform a nasal swab and analyse the results themselves. Pharmacies currently sell these kits for up to €5.20 

 

Vaccination for children

Earlier in the week, Véran suggested that Friday’s meeting would serve as a forum for discussing the vaccination of children aged between 5-11

Vulnerable children with chronic health conditions and other co-morbidities have been eligible for vaccination since December 15th. But it is unlikely that blanket vaccination of children aged 5-11 will be authorised tomorrow, before various scientific and ethics council have had the chance to examine the possibility further. 

No lockdown or curfew…

French health officials have previously described lockdowns as the most “barbaric” tool in the fight against Covid-19. 

Such a measure looks unlikely for now, with Véran telling MPs on Wednesday: “It is not the choice that we have made.”

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COVID-19 ALERT

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

A resurgence of Covid-19 cases in Europe, this time driven by new, fast-spreading Omicron subvariants, is once again threatening to disrupt people's summer plans.

Covid-19: European summer holidays threatened by rise of subvariants

Several Western European nations have recently recorded their highest daily case numbers in months, due in part to Omicron sub-variants BA.4 and BA.5.

The increase in cases has spurred calls for increased vigilance across a continent that has relaxed most if not all coronavirus restrictions.

The first resurgence came in May in Portugal, where BA.5 propelled a wave that hit almost 30,000 cases a day at the beginning of June. That wave has since started to subside, however.

READ ALSO: KEY POINTS: German Health Ministry lays out autumn Covid plan

Italy recorded more than 62,700 cases on Tuesday, nearly doubling the number from the previous week, the health ministry said. 

Germany meanwhile reported more than 122,000 cases on Tuesday. 

France recorded over 95,000 cases on Tuesday, its highest daily number since late April, representing a 45-percent increase in just a week.

Austria this Wednesday recorded more than 10,000 for the first time since April.

READ ALSO: Italy’s transport mask rule extended to September as Covid rate rises

Cases have also surged in Britain, where there has been a seven-fold increase in Omicron reinfection, according to the Office for National Statistics (ONS).

The ONS blamed the rise on the BA.4 and BA.5 variants, but also said Covid fell to the sixth most common cause of death in May, accounting for 3.3 percent of all deaths in England and Wales.

BA.5 ‘taking over’

Mircea Sofonea, an epidemiologist at the University of Montpellier, said Covid’s European summer wave could be explained by two factors.

READ ALSO: 11,000 new cases: Will Austria reintroduce restrictions as infection numbers rise?

One is declining immunity, because “the protection conferred by an infection or a vaccine dose decreases in time,” he told AFP.

The other came down to the new subvariants BA.4 and particularly BA.5, which are spreading more quickly because they appear to be both more contagious and better able to escape immunity.

Olivier Schwartz, head of the virus and immunity unit at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, said BA.5 was “taking over” because it is 10 percent more contagious than BA.2.

“We are faced with a continuous evolution of the virus, which encounters people who already have antibodies — because they have been previously infected or vaccinated — and then must find a selective advantage to be able to sneak in,” he said.

READ ALSO: Tourists: What to do if you test positive for Covid in France

But are the new subvariants more severe?

“Based on limited data, there is no evidence of BA.4 and BA.5 being associated with increased infection severity compared to the circulating variants BA.1 and BA.2,” the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) said last week.

But rising cases can result in increasing hospitalisations and deaths, the ECDC warned.

Could masks be making a comeback over summer? (Photo by OSCAR DEL POZO / AFP)

Alain Fischer, who coordinates France’s pandemic vaccine strategy, warned that the country’s hospitalisations had begun to rise, which would likely lead to more intensive care admissions and eventually more deaths.

However, in Germany, virologist Klaus Stohr told the ZDF channel that “nothing dramatic will happen in the intensive care units in hospitals”.

Return of the mask? 

The ECDC called on European countries to “remain vigilant” by maintaining testing and surveillance systems.

“It is expected that additional booster doses will be needed for those groups most at risk of severe disease, in anticipation of future waves,” it added.

Faced with rising cases, last week Italy’s government chose to extend a requirement to wear medical grade FFP2 masks on public transport until September 30.

“I want to continue to recommend protecting yourself by getting a second booster shot,” said Italy’s Health Minister Roberto Speranza, who recently tested positive for Covid.

READ ALSO: Spain to offer fourth Covid-19 vaccine dose to ‘entire population’

Fischer said France had “clearly insufficient vaccination rates” and that a second booster shot was needed.

Germany’s government is waiting on expert advice on June 30 to decide whether to reimpose mandatory mask-wearing rules indoors.

The chairman of the World Medical Association, German doctor Frank Ulrich Montgomery, has recommended a “toolbox” against the Covid wave that includes mask-wearing, vaccination and limiting the number of contacts.

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