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COVID-19 RULES

France announces restrictions on gatherings ahead of New Year and orders home-working

After recording more than 100,000 new Covid cases in a single day, France has announced extra restrictions ahead of the New Year weekend, including limits on gatherings.

New year fireworks in Paris
New Year fireworks and concerts have already been cancelled in most French towns. Photo: Martin Bureau/AFP

Prime minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran held a press conference on Monday evening after a special meeting of the Defence Council, chaired by Emmanuel Macron.

Describing the health services as “under great pressure”, Castex announced the following extra measures:

  • Indoor gatherings of more than 2,000 people are banned, and outdoor gatherings of more than 5,000 people.
  • The closure of nightclubs, which has been in place since early December, has been prolonged.
  • Most local authorities had already banned New Year’s Eve concerts and fireworks displays, but the ban on gatherings announced by Jean Castex on Monday evening also includes a ban on concerts with standing audiences.
  • The consumption of food and drink is also banned in a number of venues where large groups gather, including at sports events and stadiums, in cinemas and concert halls and on all public transport, including long-distance trains.
  • Table-seating only in cafés and bars 
  • For private gatherings on New Year’s Eve there are no extra restrictions, but the recommendations remain in place – keep gatherings small, ventilate rooms, where masks where possible and test in advance of the gathering.
  • All ceremonies de vouex (New Year ceremonies held by local officials and some companies) will be cancelled
  • From January 3rd, remote working will become compulsory for all workers who can, for a minimum of three days a week and a recommendation of four days a week.

Castex also announced that from Tuesday morning, people will be able to get a booster shot three months after their last vaccination rather than four months as was the case previously.

President Emmanuel Macron chaired a meeting – remotely from his holiday home on the French Riviera – of the Defence Council on Monday afternoon, at which new measures were agreed.

On Saturday, health officials recorded 104,611 cases over the previous 24 hours, the third consecutive day the numbers have been record highs.

 

Some of the increase could be accounted for by extra testing, as French people were advised to take precautionary tests before travelling to visit relatives or getting together with friends over the festive period, but the more contagious Omicron variant is becoming dominant across France.

Health minister Oliver Véran said that Covid case numbers are doubling every two days and warned of a “mega wave” when the fifth wave of cases of the Delta variant of the virus collides with the new wave of Omicron cases.

 

He said the government was considering changing the conditions of self-isolation for people infected with the Omicron variant, in order to avoid potentially “paralysing” services and businesses, but wanted more time to study international data. He said an announcement would be made on this probably after December 31st.

Hospitalisations are also rising with more more than 3,000 Covid patients now in intensive care, an indicator of increasing pressure on the health services.

Castex said that the “immense majority” of those hospitalised with the most severe form of the virus were either unvaccinated or not fully vaccinated.

Véran said that 190 children are currently hospitalised with Covid – 35 of them in intensive care – but added that every year thousands of children are hospitalised with common infections including gastro bugs and bronchitis. 

He said: “Each year, bronchitis leads to the hospitalitation of 23,000 children. 14,000 children are admitted to hospital every year with gastroenteritis. There are more children at the moment in hospital with bronchitis than with a bad form of covid. Each year, there are on average 2-3000 children in ICU because of bronchitis.”

However, France has opened up vaccination to all children aged 5 and above. 

Member comments

  1. Sensible!

    And finally some attention is given to consumption of food in public settings – this should have been forbidden from March 2020. I lost count of times where people would pretend to eat or drink on a train, so that they can keep their masks off for the entire journey.

    1. Here in South Australia, it is a requirement to wear a mask in a cinema, unless eating or drinking. Have never seen so many people making their drinks and food last for the entire movie, just so they didn’t have to mask up. The pandemic has certainly highlighted how we don’t give a toss about anyone else, it is all about individual rights being asserted. We have become a world of, “I am alright, Jack’s”.

  2. When the booster was last reduced to 4 months, it was still only available after 3 Jan . Has that now changed ?

  3. “President Emmanuel Macron chaired a meeting – remotely from his holiday home on the French Riviera”
    So why didn’t he lead by example and stay in Paris. A bit like all the British that rushed to get here before the deadline, but hey, we just had to see our relations for Christmas and sod everybody else. What a selfish society it is now.

    1. The British that ‘rushed here’ were all fully jabbed and tested – unlike many of the resident French population – so what’s your problem Boggy ? You need to make some New Year resolutions to help instil a bit more magnanimity !

      1. My problem is, why anyone with the slightest bit of intelligence would want to have holidays in the middle of a virus outbreak.

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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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