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COVID-19 RULES

French health minister reveals the conditions to lift Covid restrictions

France's health minister has laid out the criteria that must be met before further relaxations of the country's Covid rules can take place.

French health minister reveals the conditions to lift Covid restrictions
France's Health Minister Olivier Veran. Photo by JULIEN DE ROSA / AFP

In recent weeks France has relaxed several of its Covid-related rules and another change – a relaxation on mask rules – comes into force on Monday, February 28th

However two major restrictions remain in place; the requirement for a vaccine pass to enter a wide range of venues and mask rules in many indoor venues.

CALENDAR: When is France relaxing Covid rules?

These rules currently have no end date, but in recent weeks government figures have talked about ending them as soon as mid March.

But now the health minister Olivier Véran, in a presentation to the Senate, has laid out three criteria that must be met before these rules can be relaxed or scrapped altogether.

They are:

  • Fewer than 1,500 Covid patients in intensive care across the country;
  • An incidence rate (cases per 100,000 people) of between 300 and 500;
  • An R rate below 1.

He added that if present trends continue, those goals could still be met by mid March or early April, but that a relaxation of the rules would not come before the middle of March.

Current stats

On Tuesday, France had 2,904 Covid patients in intensive care, a 12 percent fall on the week before and the continuation of a slow but steady decline observed over the past few weeks.

Having more than 3,000 Covid patients in hospital is regarded as a danger point, at which health services begin to struggle to cope and routine operations may need to be postponed in some areas. The current ICU occupancy for Covid patients is 57 percent.

Graphs from Covidtracker.fr show, left, Covid patients in intensive care and, right, hospital Covid deaths. Graph: Covidtracker.fr

The national incidence rate is 884 although areas including the south west of France and the north east areas on the Belgian border are still reporting a rate of over 1,000 cases per 100,000 people.

The incidence rate has been steadily declining overall, but a faster fall has been recorded in areas such as Paris, where the Omicron wave peaked earlier.

This map from Covidtracker.fr shows the incidence rate by département – orange is between 500 and 1,000, red is over 1,000. Map: Covidtracker.fr

The current incidence rate is 0.57, well within the minister’s target. Covid case numbers have been falling rapidly for several weeks, albeit from an extremely high rate at the peak. 

Targets

At previous points in the pandemic French authorities have imposed targets around case numbers and hospitalisation rates that needed to be met before restrictions could be relaxed.

These have generally been followed, although the lifting of lockdown in time for Christmas 2020 went ahead, despite the case rate target not quite being met.

The French government had initially been talking about July as a possible date for lifting restrictions, before several ministers floated the idea of April or May – this lead to accusations of electioneering, as Macron was accused of wanting to bring in popular moves just ahead of the presidential elections in April.

Little detail has been given on what new rules will look like, so we don’t know whether we’re talking about a complete end to mask rules and the vaccine pass or simply a relaxation.

Véran said the vaccine pass will be lifted in “all or part of the places where it is required”.

Testing and self-isolation

So far there has been no political discussion around changing the rules for self-isolation in case of a positive Covid test, or changing the rules on free Covid tests.

Tests are currently free to all fully vaccinated residents of France who are registered within the French health system, and can be accessed for any reason (including travel).

Unvaccinated residents only qualify for free tests if they have symptoms or are a contact case, while tourists are required to pay for tests in all circumstances. The government has capped the price of tests at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test. Home-test kits sell for a maximum of €6, but since February 15th can only be bought in pharmacies.

Vaccines

Véran also told the Senate that at present there was no evidence that people who are not in high-risk groups require a second vaccine booster shot, and these would continue being offered only to high-risk groups such as people with long-term illnesses.

However he added that if a dangerous new variant arose making a fourth dose necessary, the government’s “hand would not tremble”. 

The vaccine is available to everyone aged five and over in France.

Travel

Véran did not mention any relaxation of travel rules and these tend to be discussed separately from domestic French rules.

France recently lifted the requirement for a negative Covid test for all fully-vaccinated arrivals, meaning that if you’re vaccinated you can travel to France relatively easily.

However non-vaccinated arrivals are still banned from all orange and red list countries – which includes most non-EU countries including the UK, USA and Canada – unless they meet the criteria for essential travel.

There are no current plans to change this.

You can follow all the latest travel rules announcements HERE.

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COVID-19

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.

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