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'Peak has passed' as France lifts Covid restrictions

AFP
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'Peak has passed' as France lifts Covid restrictions
A health worker takes a nasal swab sample from a child for a Covid-19 antigenic test available on the premises of the Fenelon Notre-Dame school complex in La Rochelle, south-western France, on January 13, 2022. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

France on Wednesday loosened several of the restrictions imposed to curb the latest Covid surge, with authorities hoping a recent decline in daily cases will soon ease pressure on overburdened hospitals.

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The move has divided experts after authorities reported record coronavirus infections just last month, with critics accusing the government of making a hasty bet on a return to normality.

But President Emmanuel Macron is betting that widespread vaccinations will curb the pandemic, with proof of inoculation now required for the health pass used to access everything from bars and restaurants to cinemas and long-distance public transport.

The government says more than 90 percent of adults are vaccinated, and booster shots or proof of recovery from Covid will be required to retain the new vaccine pass -- a recent negative test result is no longer accepted.

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From Wednesday, wearing face masks outdoors will no longer be mandatory, and audience capacity limits have been lifted for theatres, concerts, sporting matches and other events. Working from home is also no longer required, though it remains strongly recommended.

READ ALSO What changes on Wednesday as Covid restrictions lift 

A second stage of easing is set for February 16th.

CALENDAR When France's Covid restrictions are lifted

Authorities view the threat of the Omicron variant as less dangerous than previous strains of the virus, even though it is more contagious.

"We have seen a weak reversal of the trend over the past few days, with fewer cases declared each day than seven days earlier," government spokesman Gabriel Attal told France Info radio on Tuesday.

An average of 322,256 cases were recorded over the previous seven days, according to latest figures, down from 366,179 a week ago.

Attal called it a "very encouraging signal" but said officials "remain cautious" because of a "very contagious" sub-variant of Omicron, BA.1, that appears to have delayed the peak of infections in other countries.

France also still has some 3,750 Covid patients in intensive care, above the government's target of 3,000, and on average the country is seeing 261 Covid deaths at hospitals every day.

The Paris region of Ile-de France, which was the first area to start reporting large numbers of Omicron cases, is showing a clear decline as case numbers, as seen in the below graph by journalist Nicolas Berrod, with Ile-de-France in red.

Across France as a whole (the dotted line) the fall is less pronounced as many areas are still reporting rising case numbers.

 

The below map from Le Parisien shows the areas where the incidence rate is falling (in blue) and rising (in yellow, orange and red).

 

 

"We've clearly passed the peak, we hope the decline will be quick. But we're coming from stratospheric levels, so this wave is still far from over," the epidemiologist Mahmoud Zureik told French daily Le Parisien on Wednesday.

As of Tuesday, France had recorded 131,312 Covid deaths since the beginning of the outbreak.

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ldolcetto 2022/02/02 20:14
Great now the the entrance covid test requirement!

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