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COVID-19 RULES

What new Covid measures could France impose on Monday?

The French Health Defence Council will meet on Monday amid soaring Covid-19 case numbers to 'reevaluate' the current Covid rules. Here are the measures that ministers will be considering.

Jean Castex, Emmanuel Macron, Alexis Kohler and Olivier Veran
Emmanuel Macron will chair a meeting of the Defence Council on Monday. Photo: Lewis Joly/AFP

France recorded more than 100,000 new Covid cases in a 24 hour period on Christmas Day, the third consecutive day that record high case numbers were observed. 

A meeting of the country’s Health Defence Council, chaired by President Emmanuel Macron, will meet at 4pm to “reevaluate” the current rules in place to keep the pandemic under control. 

A press conference with prime minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran is scheduled for 7.15pm.

Here are some of the options on the table. 

Health pass reforms 

The government has already announced its intention to change the health pass into a vaccine pass by the end of January – meaning that unvaccinated people would no longer have the option to present a negative test to access bars, restaurants, leisure centres etc.

But some French media have reported that it could introduce a new “super-pass” before then. This would mean that to enter certain venues identified as areas where people often pick up Covid, attendees would have to present proof of a negative covid test as well as vaccination. 

Self-isolation time shortened 

Currently, people who are a contact case of someone infected with Omicron must self-isolate for up to 17 days. Given that the variant is becoming dominant in France, the current rules have the potential to completely paralyse some sectors if large numbers of staff are in isolation and unable to work.

The government is therefore considering shortening the isolation period.

Obligatory mask wearing outside 

Some outside venues, like markets, already require mask wearing and some local authorities have already reimposed outdoor mask rules – but this rule could be extended to cover all outside spaces. 

Currently, masks must be worn on all public transport, all indoor public spaces and any venue where visitors are required to use a health pass for entry. 

French mask rules have no exemptions and not wearing a mask when required to do so can net you a €135 fine.

Workplaces to require health passes 

French workplaces could be obliged to require employees to hold a valid health pass, as is already the case in Italy. Last week, the Labour Minister said she was undecided on such a measure and said that further consultation was needed.

It is already recommended – but not a rule – that employees who can work from home do so for at least three days a week.  

New Year’s Eve restrictions 

Last year, the government imposed a curfew on New Year’s Eve in a bid to get case numbers under control and avoid a nationwide super-spreader event.

This year local authorities have already banned fireworks, concerts and drinking in the street in many areas, while nightclubs across France have been closed since December 10th.

The government has asked the public to keep end of year gatherings small and to get tested before attending parties.

This year though, it is unlikely that a nationwide curfew will be enforced. Limits on numbers at private gatherings are also likely to remain recommendations, rather than rules. 

Travel restrictions lifted

France currently has in place a complete ban on most types of travel to and from the UK, while travellers from most other non-EU countries require proof of vaccination to enter.

It is highly unlikely that France will announce any loosening of travel restrictions, including those that apply for people going to or coming from the UK.

School holidays extended 

Many opposition figures have called for the school holidays to be extended to prevent the spread of Covid in schools.

But French media are reporting that the government is unlikely to enforce such a measure – ministers have always said that closing schools is a last resort if other measures are not working, given the potential for disruption of education and widening inequalities that school closures present. Last week, the government ruled that all children over the age of five could receive Covid vaccination. 

Member comments

  1. Yes more restriction, a very good idea! Absolutely not. Just run to the test centre whenever you have a sniffel or headache! Fair enough if you are 70 plus, are all those positive cases 70 plus or have a solid reason needing a test? I doubt it! Soon you will get a stick pushed into hyour nose whenever you enter the superu!
    How more infections how better, the quicker it’s over.

  2. I have to confess, Im growing weary of those who refuse to vaccinate. how about that they are required by law to stay at home, those who do their part in getting vaccinated and following masks and social distancing benefit from their sense of public and global duty. If you dont want to be part of the solution, stop being part of the problem

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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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