French hospitals ‘under pressure from Covid until March’ warn scientists

France's Covid-19 Scientific Council warned on Thursday that hospitals would remain under pressure until mid-March at the earliest as school class closures topped 18,000.

A French health worker performs an antigen test.
A French health worker performs an antigen test. As the government plans on relaxing Covid restrictions, scientists are concerned. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, laid out a timeline for the easing of Covid rules on Thursday evening.

The earliest changes come on February 2nd, when face masks will no longer be required outdoors, venue capacity limits will be scrapped and working from home three days per week will no longer be compulsory. 

READ MORE Calendar: When is France lifting Covid restrictions?

On the same day that Castex made his announcements, France’s Scientific Council on Covid-19, an independent body that advises the government warned that the fifth wave has the potential to cause problems in the national health system until mid-March at the earliest.

“The health system will remain under very high pressure for many weeks, in particular in the south of France,” wrote the Council in a report updated on Thursday

It warned of the potential ill-effects of delayed surgeries and other treatments because of beds occupied by Covid patients. 

The continued functioning of the health system in France is dependent, according the the Council, on “the reduction of social contact and the continued practice of barrier gestures in the coming weeks.”

READ MORE ANALYSIS: How dangerous are France’s sky-high Covid rates?

The Council estimates that between 9-14 million people in France have been infected with Omicron. It said that continued high infection rates could be linked to the reopening of schools after the Christmas holidays and urged for the current testing regime to be maintained. 

On Thursday the government expanded the number of professionals authorised to carry out Covid tests to include: speech therapists, chiropodists, orthoptists, medical physicists, occupational therapists, audioprosthesists, veterinarians and a host of others.

Covid case numbers in France remain exceptionally high, with more than 400,000 new daily cases recorded in the three days leading up to the government’s announcements on Thursday evening. On Monday alone some 525,000 positive cases were reported.

On Friday morning 18,786 classes in schools remained closed due to Covid-19 – a new record representing some 3.56 percent of all classes in France 

The conversion of the health pass into a vaccine pass on January 24th will mean that negative Covid tests will no longer be sufficient for people who want to access venues currently subject to the health pass.

READ ALSO What changes when France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass?

The government hopes the move will drive up vaccination rates further and add some level of protection against falling seriously ill with Covid. 

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.
For members


Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

With travel opening up, many people are planning trips to France over the next few months, but the Covid pandemic has not gone away. Here are your questions answered on testing, isolation and medical treatment if you do fall sick while on holiday.

Paxlovid, tests and isolation: Covid care for tourists in France

Travel rules

Covid-related travel rules have mostly been relaxed now but you will still need to show proof of being fully vaccinated at the French border. If you are not vaccinated you will need to show a negative Covid test – find the full breakdown of the rules HERE.


Once in France if you develop symptoms or you have been in contact with someone who has tested positive you will need to get a Covid test.

The good news is that testing is widely available in France, both for residents and tourists.

The easiest way to get a test is head to a pharmacy, most of which offer the rapid-result antigen test on a walk-in basis Tests are available to everyone who wants one, there is no need to fulfill any set criteria.

For full details on how to get a test, and some handy French vocab, click HERE.

The difference for tourists is that you will have to pay for your test, while residents get their costs reimbursed by the French state health system.

In the pharmacy you may be asked for your carte vitale – this is the health card that residents use to claim refunds. As a tourist you won’t have the card – you can still get the test, you will just need to pay for it. Costs vary between pharmacies but are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test.


If your test is positive you are legally required to isolate, but how long your isolation period is depends on the your vaccination stats – full details HERE.


For most fully-vaccinated people without underlying health conditions the symptoms of Covid are fairly mild, but if you do become ill, here’s how to access medical help while in France.

Pharmacy – one of the first things you will notice about France is that pharmacies are everywhere, just look out for the green cross. As well as selling over-the-counter medication, pharmacies all have at least one fully-qualified pharmacist on the staff who can offer medical advice. 

Take advantage of pharmacists – they train for at least six years so they’re very knowledgeable and they’re easy to access by simply walking into the shop. In tourist areas it’s likely that they will speak English. Pharmacists can also signpost you to a nearby doctor if you need extra help.

Doctors – if you need to see a doctor, look out for a médecin généraliste (a GP or family doctor). There is no need to be registered with a doctor, simply call up and ask for an appointment if you need one. If you have a smartphone you can use the medical app Doctolib to find a généraliste in your area who speaks English. You will need to pay for your consultation – €25 is the standard charge and you pay the doctor directly using either cash or a debit card.

You may be able to claim back the cost later on your own health/travel insurance depending on the policy.

Ambulance – if you are very sick or have difficulty breathing you should call an ambulance – the number is 15. All non-residents are entitled to emergency treatment in France, whether or not you have insurance, but if you are admitted or have treatment you may need to pay later.

READ ALSO Emergency in France: Who to call and what to say

Paxlovid – several readers have asked whether the Covid treatment drug Paxlovid is available in France. It was licenced for use in February 2022 and is available on prescription from pharmacies, mainly for people with underlying health conditions or an impaired immune system. You can get a prescription from a medical practitioner.

The drug is reimbursed for French residents, but as a tourist you will have to pay.