France will end mask rules ‘once there are fewer than 1,500 Covid patients in ICU’

Mask rules and mandatory vaccine passes can only end in France once there are fewer than 1,500 Covid patients in intensive care, the health minister has announced.

France will end mask rules 'once there are fewer than 1,500 Covid patients in ICU'
France's Health Minister Olivier Veran leaves the Elysee palace at the end of the weekly cabinet meeting. Photo by Ludovic MARIN / AFP

Ministers including Véran had previously raised the possibility of ending mask rules indoors by mid March, with the vaccine pass following shortly after, although he added that this would depend on the health situation.

On Thursday, while on a trip to Nantes, he clarified that these relaxations of the rules could only happen once there are fewer than 1,500 Covid patients in intensive care.

Although Covid rates in France are falling fast there is still severe pressure on many hospitals – on Wednesday there were 3,100 patients in intensive care.

Véran, speaking on France Info on Wednesday morning, raised the possibility of ending the mask rule and relaxing vaccine pass requirement as early as next month, if the health situation continue to improve.

He told France Info: “If we continue on this dynamic, we will be able to get out of the current wave in a few weeks. 

“It is clearly improving everywhere, even if there are still many patients in the hospital,.

“If we follow this dynamic, 15 days after February 28th, which brings us to mid-March, we could begin to seriously consider the question of wearing masks indoors, for adults and children.

“We could also start to reduce the vaccination pass, but keep it in places that are very high risk, such as nightclubs and there it would be until late March, early April.”

The French government has already announced a calendar of relaxation of health measures, which includes relaxing the current mask rules from February 28th – from that date masks will no longer be required in vaccine pass venues (eg bars, cafés, tourist sites and ski lifts) but will still be required on public transport.

CALENDAR: When is France lifting Covid restrictions?

They remain required in other indoor spaces such as shops and workplaces, while children are required to wear them in the classroom.

There is currently no end date for the use of the vaccine pass – which from Tuesday has required a booster shot to stay valid – but other ministers have previously floated mid-March or early April as a possible date for scrapping it.

The Omicron-driven fifth wave of Covid continues to melt rapidly in France, with case numbers tumbling, but pressure on hospitals remains high with 3,126 Covid patients in intensive care, representing a 62 percent occupancy.

The graph from shows the total number of cases reported in France over the past two months, with Omicron cases in red and Delta in grey. Graph:

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal in his weekly press briefing on Tuesday reiterated that although things are improving the pressure on hospitals and health workers remains very high, with some hospitals still being forced to cancel non-emergency surgery. 

Over the past week admissions to intensive care have fallen by 9 percent and Covid deaths in hospitals fallen by 10 percent, although the average daily death rate remains high at 256 people.

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Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France’s disabilities minister

France's disabilities minister will not face a new inquiry "as things stand" over a rape allegation that surfaced just after his nomination by President Emmanuel Macron last week, prosecutors have said, citing the anonymity of the alleged victim.

Prosecutors: No new rape inquiry for France's disabilities minister

Damien Abad has faced growing pressure to resign after the news website Mediapart reported the assault claims by two women dating from over a decade ago, which he has denied.

One of the women, identified only by her first name, Margaux, filed a rape complaint in 2017 that was later dismissed by prosecutors.

The other woman, known only as Chloe, told Mediapart that in 2010 she had blacked out after accepting a glass of champagne from Abad at a bar in Paris, and woke up in her underwear in pain with him in a hotel room. She believes she may have been drugged.

She did not file an official complaint, but the Paris prosecutors’ office said it was looking into the case after being informed by the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics, a group formed by members of France’s MeToo movement.

“As things stand, the Paris prosecutors’ office is not following up on the letter” from the observatory, it said, citing “the inability to identify the victim of the alleged acts and therefore the impossibility of proceeding to a hearing.”

In cases of sexual assault against adults, Paris prosecutors can open an inquiry only if an official complaint is made, meaning the victim must give their identity.

Abad has rejected the calls to resign in order to ensure the new government’s “exemplarity,” saying that he is innocent and that his own condition of arthrogryposis, which limits the movement of his joints, means sexual relations can occur only with the help of a partner.

The appointment of Abad as minister for solidarities and people with disabilities in a reshuffle last Friday was seen as a major coup for Macron, as the 42-year-old had defected from the right-wing opposition.

The new prime minister, Elisabeth Borne, said she was unaware of the allegations before Abad’s nomination, but insisted that “If there is new information, if a new complaint is filed, we will draw all the consequences.”

The claims could loom large over parliamentary elections next month, when Macron is hoping to secure a solid majority for his reformist agenda. Abad will be standing for re-election in the Ain department north of Lyon.