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EDUCATION

French government: ‘Grounds for hope’ in Omicron wave of Covid

As France continues to see record numbers of new Covid cases, the government spokesman says there are 'grounds for hope' in the latest situation.

Head-and-shoulders photograph of French Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal
Photo: Bertrand Guay / AFP

“The epidemic is today stronger than ever,” government spokesman Gabriel Attal told journalists at his weekly press conference. “Never has the virus circulated so much and been so present. There are now nearly 300,000 cases on average per day, or 2 million a week.”

He cited figures showing the average rate of incidence across the country is now 2,800 per 100,000 people – but said: “Some départements are more affected than others – Paris, Seine-Saint-Denis, Val-de-Marne, Essonne have an incidence rate of more than 4,000.”

But, he went on: “In this ocean of cases, there are some bright spots: Omicron is less severe … the pressure on hospitals is growing, but it is not commensurate with the number of cases being detected. 

ANALYSIS How dangerous are France’s sky-high Covid rates

“We must be careful not to call ‘peak’ too early, but we have real grounds for hope.”

And, a day ahead of a teachers’ strike over Covid rules in schools, he said that the decision to keep schools open as long as possible was the correct one.

“Despite the dizzying numbers of infections, we do not deviate from our course. The goal is to live as normally as possible despite the virus and we are holding this course to keep the country open.”

He admitted that some decisions had been poor in relation to testing to keep France’s schools open, saying: “Some information arrived late, it is true and we understand the fatigue of parents and teachers.”

But he insisted: “When we close classes, we impact children’s health. These are inequalities that are growing between children, thousands of children deprived of a canteen meal. 

“Schools in France have closed half as often as in Germany, three times less than in Italy and four times less than in the United States since the beginning of the crisis. 

“Today, only two percent of schools are closed (…) and we prefer to test rather than close them,” he said, noting that “12 million tests are carried out every week”.

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COVID-19

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.

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