During a Press Conference on Thursday (20 Jan), French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced that there will be a gradual lifting of COVID-19 restrictions amidst the receding wave of infections due to the Omicron Variant.
However, before raising your alarms and wondering if it is anything as extreme as the United Kingdom’s approach of fully removing all restrictions, mask mandates included, take a deep breath because France is taking a more level-headed approach.
Past Restrictions to the Easing of Restrictions
Similar to the United Kingdom, one of the main motives of relaxing the COVID-19 restrictions was to allow the citizens to “return to life as normal as possible”.
When the Delta and Omicron variant waves were predicted to peak in late December 2021 to early January 2022, the French government had taken pre-emptive measures before New Year’s Eve in an attempt to reduce the number of cases.
They were as listed:
- Compulsory télétravail (working from home) for at least three days a week, and business found not complying with the mandate could be fined €500 per employee
- Gatherings of any sorts are to be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors
- Nightclubs were closed and dancing was prohibited.
- Bars and cafes were limited to table service only.
Likewise, French citizens needed to be masked and have valid Health Passes to enter various establishments, with social distancing and vaccination conditions attached, of which Singaporeans are very familiar with.
Even though French authorities have registered 469,769 cases on Tuesday (18 Jan), the incidences have been dropping to an average of 320,000 COVID-19 cases per day from both Delta and Omicron variant infections.
The numbers are starting to fall from the peak and 93% of French adults have one vaccination shot at least.
Thus, starting from 2 February, the audience capacity limits for indoors and outdoors will cease completely.
Working from home will no longer be mandatory for eligible employees, and face masks will not be required outside, Mr Castex declared alongside Health Minister Olivier Veran.
Eating and drinking will be allowed again in stadiums, movie theatres, and public transport too.
Nightclubs will reopen again from 16 February.
In the case of mask wearing though, that will still be dependent on the local authorities’ decision, since even states like Paris have issued orders that masks must be worn in crowded outdoor spaces like markets or resort towns.
Since the twin-threat variant wave has yet to end, it is unlikely for the government to overrule local authorities in such matters.
Implementation of a “Vaccine Pass”
However, in the same vein of the Singaporean system, is the necessity of having a Vaccine Pass.
The need for a Vaccine Pass will come into effect on 24 January.
In short, a Vaccine Pass (pass vaccinal) requires proof of full vaccination—double-dosed and preferably with booster shots—to take part in many everyday activities, like gaining entry to various establishments or public facilities.
Either that, or you must have a certificate that proves you have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, or you possess an attestation de contre-indication, a certificate that you can’t be vaccinated for medical reasons.
It differs from a Health Pass (pass sanitare) which only previously required people to prove that they had at least one vaccine shot, have recovered from COVID-19 in the past six months, and/or have a negative COVID-19 test result.
The Vaccine Pass will still use the TousAntiVaccine Application.
Hence, for 90% of the French population above the age of 12 who have been vaccinated, nothing will change because they have already met the criteria for a Vaccine Pass.
All they need to do is simply flash their valid vaccination status on their application to the persons checking as per usual.
France’s Digital Affairs Minister Cédric O affirms that the change from Health Passes to Vaccine Passes will not affect the population at all, since the application will synchronise with the new algorithms and will automatically implement the new health rules.
However, there are small differences.
The Vaccine Pass only applies to people above the age of 16.
Children between the age of 12 to 15 still have to show their Health Passes and a negative COVID-19 test result that they had taken in the previous 24 hours.
This is likely due to the fact that vaccinations have not been as readily available to their age group due to the possible side effects and risks involved in vaccinating younger children.
Other Changes in France
After a one-day strike by teachers held on Thursday (21 Jan) with regards to inconsistent COVID-19 health measures applied to schools, the government has finally pledged that schools will receive 5 million FFP2 masks and will recruit thousands of substitute teachers to help deal with the pandemic.
However, some teacher unions are still dissatisfied.
Some are calling for older, stricter measures like the closure of classes should there be a single positive COVID-19 test result, plus a close contact testing among families and weekly saliva tests.
In the Union’s opinion, it feels like “The Minister boasts of keeping schools open to dress up his political choice to make schools a day care centre, to allow parents to go to work, in defiance of the health of the staff, children and their families.”
They have further walk-out strikes planned on 24 Jan and 28 Jan, if the French Ministry of Education does not clarify or substantiate the COVID-19 safety measures for schools.
Additionally, a vaccine booster programme will be opening up for children aged 12 to 17 starting from January 24, though it is not compulsory for this age group to have a booster in order to be considered “fully vaccinated”.
The health situation in France overall remains tense, but Prime Minister Castex believes that hospital pressures will reduce in a few more weeks, and with the implementation of the vaccine pass, the government will be able to lift more restrictions.
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Featured Image: Shutterstock / Jo Bouroch
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