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COVID-19 RULES

Covid rules and vaccine pass: What changes in France on Wednesday

This week in France there are two big Covid-related changes - the second phase in the relaxation of health rules and changes to the vaccine pass validity. Here's what you need to know.

Covid rules and vaccine pass: What changes in France on Wednesday
Reports of "needle attacks" have caused concern in France. Photo by SEBASTIEN BOZON / AFP

It is a busy week in terms of changes to Covid policy in France, with Wednesday marking the latest phase in the gradual relaxation of the rules.

Here’s what changes;

Wednesday

  • Wider relaxation of Covid rules 

A number of Covid rules are being scrapped, which will be of huge relief to those working in the nightlife and cultural sector. 

Nightclubs will be open once again from Wednesday and cafés and bars will no longer be limited to table-service, meaning you will be able to drink at the bar and even have a boogie if you wish. 

Concerts and music gigs can also take place once again.

People will once again be allowed to eat in cinemas and sports grounds, as well as on trains and planes.

You can find the full calendar of upcoming changes HERE.

Several other changes have already come into force this week;

Monday

  • Vaccination centres told to show flexibility to unvaccinated

The health ministry sent a memo to vaccination centres on Monday, instructing them to allow people using fake health passes to wipe the record clean and initiate a real vaccination cycle. 

Up until Monday, people using fake passes had 30 days to inform a vaccination centre and receive their shots without facing legal consequences.

This 30 day limit no longer applies – and those working at vaccination sites no longer need to inform law enforcement authorities of people who were using fake passes. 

Tuesday

  • Vaccine pass rules change

Booster shots are now necessary for most people who want to hold a valid vaccine pass – which is required to use a wide range of venues including bars, cafés, ski lifts and tourist sites. 

Up until now, vaccine passes automatically deactivated if it has been more than seven months since your second dose and you have not yet received a booster shot. But on Tuesday, this time limit dropped to four months. Anyone who already had the booster is fine, even if their gap between second and third doses is more than four months.

READ ALSO Your questions answered about France’s new 4-month booster shot rule

Bear in mind that in certain circumstances, proof of previous infection from Covid means you would not have to receive a booster dose to carry on holding a valid vaccine pass. 

READ MORE If you’ve had Covid you may not need a booster for your vaccine pass

You can still use proof of recent recovery from Covid in lieu of being fully vaccinated as a condition to hold the health pass. But instead of lasting for six months, the validity of recent recovery drops to just four months on Tuesday. Remember that you can receive a booster once three months have passed since your infection. Full details on how to use recovery certificates HERE.

Finally, when the government introduced the vaccine pass, it offered an incentive to unvaccinated people to receive their first shot by saying that anyone who received their first dose between January 15th – February 15th would be able to use a negative Covid test to access vaccine pass venues. This exemption ends on Tuesday and now the vaccine pass requires everyone to have a full vaccination course, with seven days after the second dose.

  • Home-test kits withdrawn from supermarkets

Supermarkets are no longer able to sell Covid home-test kits (autotests) – you will now only be able to find these products in pharmacies. Over the New Year period, supermarkets were granted a license to sell these kits in order to allow for better  monitoring of the fifth wave. 

The maximum price of a Covid self-test is limited by the French government at €5.20, but many supermarkets were selling them for much cheaper prices.

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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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