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COVID-19 ALERT

France to scrap vaccine pass and mask rule

The French Prime Minister has confirmed that the rules on masks and vaccine passes will be scrapped in almost all venues from March 14th.

France to scrap vaccine pass and mask rule
Photo by Pascal GUYOT / AFP

The government had previously said that mid March was a likely date for relaxation of the rules, with the health minister adding targets around the number of cases and patients in hospital.

But Prime Minister Jean Castex, speaking on the TF1 TV channel’s lunchtime show, confirmed that the rules would be scrapped from Monday, March 14th.

Castex said: “After a fifth wave of Covid on an unprecedented scale, the health situation has been improving significantly for several weeks. In particular, the pressure on hospitals due to the epidemic has decreased significantly, allowing the lifting of emergency protocols and a gradual resumption of scheduled appointments and surgeries.

“Under these conditions, and while scientific models do not foresee any change in this favourable trajectory in the coming weeks, we can today announce new measures.”

From Monday, March 14th, masks will no longer be compulsory in any indoor spaces – with the exception of public transport, medical establishments and care homes. Private businesses will still be able to make mask-wearing a condition of entry.

Castex did not mention schools, but his office later clarified that masks will no longer be required in the classroom.

The government still recommends masks for at-risk positive and contact cases, symptomatic individuals and health care professionals.

The vaccine pass – currently required to access a wide range of venues including bars, restaurants, tourist sites and ski lifts – will also be suspended from March 14th.

A health pass – requiring proof of either vaccination or a recent negative Covid test – will still be needed to access venues with extremely vulnerable residents such as hospitals and care homes.

 

Covid case numbers have fallen tenfold since January, when daily cases peaked at over 100,000 a day. Although patient numbers in hospitals are also falling there were still 2,329 Covid patients in intensive care on March 2nd.

The targets previously set by health minister Olivier Véran were to have an R rate below 1, an incidence rate (cases per 100,000 people) below 500 and to have fewer than 1,500 Covid patients in intensive care.

On March 2nd the R rate was 0.63 and the incidence rate was 584.

There appears to be more doubt about whether the hospital target will be met – on March 2nd there were 2,329 patients in ICU, this has been falling steadily since the beginning of February and the current number is 24 percent lower than the previous week. However experts estimate the the occupancy is still likely to be at around 1,700 – above the target – by March 14th. 

France first introduced the health pass in summer 2021 before converting it into a vaccine pass – where a negative Covid test was no longer accepted – in January 2022.

In January it also added the obligation to have a booster shot in order to keep a working health pass and stipulated that this must be given within four months of the second dose – something that has proved a particular headache for tourists coming from countries which do not offer a booster after four months.

The requirement for all children aged 12 and over to have either a health or vaccine pass has also proved problematic for visitors from countries that do not have widespread vaccination programmes for children.

In France the vaccine pass has been credited with driving the high vaccination rate – over 90 percent of adults are vaccinated in France and 79.3 percent of the entire population have had at least one vaccine dose. Vaccination is open to everyone aged five and older. 

 

Member comments

  1. will the passes still be available on tous covid app as proof of vaccination is still required for many countries

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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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