Covid: New restrictions in EU, rules on France-Belgian border tighten

As cases spike in Europe, we recap the changes and explore whether France could follow suit and impose stricter restrictions on non-vaccinated people

15 November 2021

France has imposed new restrictions on entry from Belgium into France, but it appears unlikely that it will impose rules nationwide on non-vaccinated people just yet Pic: defotoberg / Shutterstock

By Hannah Thompson

Rising cases of Covid have seen several EU countries impose stricter measures on non-vaccinated people - and even a lockdown in the case of parts of Austria.

Nord department has reacted by tightening up the rules this weekend for non vaccinated people coming across the border from Belgium. A negative Covid test taken within 24 hours is now needed (as opposed to 72 hours previously).

We look at the current Covid situation in France and whether the country could impose similar new measures on non-vaccinated people.

The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) has said that the epidemic situation is very worrying in many EU countries.

Austria, the Netherlands, Germany, and Norway are among the countries to announce additional anti-Covid measures, including a lockdown for non-vaccinated people in some areas.

What measures has France reintroduced?

France has imposed extra measures in Nord, on the Belgian border. It comes after 50,000 new Covid cases were reported in Belgium last week.

  • Anyone travelling into France aged 12 and over must now be vaccinated, or show a negative PCR or lateral flow test from within the past 24 hours
  • Does not apply to HGV drivers who are crossing for border for work
  • Does not apply to people who live within 30km of the border
  • Does not apply to people travelling for emergency reasons

What measures have been imposed elsewhere in the EU?

Netherlands

The Netherlands confirmed the partial lockdown for three weeks from Saturday (November 13), and also requires restaurants, bars and essential shops such as supermarkets to close at 20:00. Non-essential shops must shut at 18:00.

It has seen a spike in cases, with 16,364 new cases in 24 hours on November 11 – a daily record. 

Most Covid patients in intensive care units (69%) and in hospital (55%) in the country are non-vaccinated, although 72% of the population is fully vaccinated, the AFP reported.

The country is considering limiting access to restaurants and leisure venues to vaccinated people only, or those who have recently recovered. A negative Covid test will no longer be considered enough.

Austria

Northern Austria has also been particularly badly hit by a spike in the numbers of Covid cases, with more than 10,000 now being confirmed each day.

The country has announced a lockdown for non-vaccinated people in Upper Austria and Salzburg. It also declared last weekend a ‘vaccination weekend’, offering extra resources to help those not yet vaccinated receive a jab.

The lockdown is also likely to be imposed nationwide in Austria, although a date for this has not yet been set.

The country has also made vaccination mandatory for healthcare workers, and children aged five and over will be able to receive the Pfizer jab in the capital of Vienna, from November 15. 

This will be a first within the EU, as the European Medicines Agency (EMA) has not yet confirmed its approval for vaccination for under-12s. 

Almost 65% of the 9.8 million people in Austria have been fully vaccinated, but this is under the EU average of 67%, and considerably lower than Spain (79%) and France (75%).

Germany

The country registered 50,196 new cases in the previous 24 hours on November 11, with the national incidence rate (number of cases per 100,000 inhabitants) rising to 249.1. 

The regions of Saxony, Thuringia and Bavaria are even worse affected, at 521, 469.2 and 427 respectively.

Pressure is growing on hospitals. Some local measures have been reimposed; from today (November 15) a negative Covid test will no longer be enough to access restaurants, bars, sports halls or salons.

Now, people will need proof of vaccination or recent recovery from Covid. 

Just over 67% of the German population is vaccinated.

Norway

The country is also seeing a relative spike in Covid cases, with 500 new cases per day of a population of 5.4 million.

Around 70% of the population is vaccinated.

The government has announced that it will allow local authorities to impose the use of a health pass, and non-vaccinated health personnel will now be required to take a test twice a week and wear masks.

Contacts of non-vaccinated people aged 18 and over will be required to get tested from tomorrow (November 16).

What is the current situation in France?

The majority of people in hospital with Covid are non-vaccinated, and cases in France are rising sharply. The incidence rate (cases per 100,000) is set to rise higher than 100 this week. 

Last week President Emmanuel Macron announced extra measures in France such as requiring all over-65s to have a booster jab if they want their health pass to remain valid.

Read more: France mandatory Covid booster jab from December: Who does it concern?

Masks are also required for all children at primary school from today (November 15).

Read more: Mandatory masks to return in all French primary schools on November 15

The government is also continuing to push people to get vaccinated, as Mr Macron called on the six million people in France who have “not received any doses” to get vaccinated “in a spirit of responsibility”.

Government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said: “The fifth wave will belong to the non-vaccinated, and vulnerable people who have not had boosters. Every injection moves a patient further from the hospital, and gets us all closer to a calm winter.”

Professor Pascal Crépey, researcher and epidemiologist at the Ecole des Hautes Etudes en santé publique, told 20 Minutes: "We can expect a sharp rise in cases between now and the Christmas holidays. 

“Especially since, with winter, we spend more time in enclosed spaces and air out the rooms less.”

Will France impose stricter measures on non-vaccinated people?

It seems unlikely for now. This is partly because the health situation and proportion of people vaccinated is different in France to many other countries.

Dr Laurent Chambaud, Director of the École des hautes études en santé publique, told 20 Minutes: "In our country, 75% of the adult population is fully vaccinated and 80% is partially vaccinated. In Austria, 65% of the population has received both doses of the vaccine.”

Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire yesterday (November 14) told BFMTV that the country “must absolutely avoid a new lockdown”. 

He called on people in France to “take responsibility” because a new lockdown would “not be good for us, our private life, our society, our children’s morale, for the economy nor for shops that have started back up again”.

Professor Crépey added: “Making the non-vaccinated bear the brunt of new measures would not be a miracle cure against the resumption of the epidemic. Of course, coercive measures against them are likely to protect them and reduce the burden of hospitalisations. 

“But they could not stop the epidemic dynamic, since vaccination only protects against 50% of the transmission of the virus.”

Prof Crépey added that restrictions imposed on the non-vaccinated would likely “not be well-respected” in France, and that “increasing constraints on people that are refusing the vaccine would be likely to radicalise them” and “would not change their minds”.

Dr Chambaud said that so far the government in France has “preferred a logic of strong incentives for vaccination, and this has worked rather well”. He said changing this would not be “a coherent strategy”.

Similarly, in France, the constitutional court would also likely reject any such measures as infringing on the principle of equality.

Yet, France could still step up restrictions, including requiring more barrier gestures in public places, and recommending that people limit their social interactions.

Prof Crépey said that “if everyone reduced our interactions by 30%, this would naturally lead to a drop in contaminations”.

Mr Le Maire also echoed calls from the president and the government spokesperson and urged more people to get vaccinated.

He said: “Even if you’re not doing it for yourself, do it for your loved ones, for all the citizens who are coming back into the hospitals and the intensive care units; do it for others.”

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