France plans regional rules for health pass as Covid cases decrease

Health minister says there is ‘reason for optimism’ as ministers discuss removing restrictions. We look at how France's Covid rules compare within Europe and worldwide

20 September 2021

Current rules mean health passes are needed to enter public venues throughout France Pic: Sylv1rob1 / Shutterstock

By Joanna York

The French government plans to introduce regional rules for using the Covid health pass, government spokesperson Gabriel Attal said yesterday (September 19). 

The proposal will be discussed by senior ministers at its weekly Conseil de Défense meeting, which is expected to take place this Wednesday (September 22).

Mr Attal told BFMTV: “There has been reflection on how we could adapt the rules to fit the local circumstances.”

Existing rules that mean the health pass must be used to enter a wide range of venues are set to end on November 15.

As Covid cases in France continue to fall, keeping the health pass as a local measure in areas where Covid cases are higher could be a way to reduce restrictions in France without removing them altogether.

French ministers plan gradual reduction in Covid restrictions

Health Minister Olivier Véran told Le Parisien: “There are reasons to hope” that the worst of the health crisis is over in France, but he said it was still too early to relax restrictions. 

He said, if the situation continues to improve, it would be a case of “gradually reducing restrictions where the virus is circulating at the lowest levels first, then elsewhere in the country”. 

Mr Attal added: “What is at stake in the weeks and months to come is to see how to keep the tools that we have seen work, and which allow us to protect French people and keep activities going, and at the same time to see how to adapt [those tools] to the circumstances.”

France hits 50 million first doses

The latest figures show that daily case numbers were under 8,000 on average in the past seven days, the lowest they have been since July, and a fall of 28% on last week. 

The national incidence rate (the number of cases per 100,000 people in the past seven days) is currently 83, also the lowest it has been since July.

Similarly, there has been no notable rise in Covid cases since schools reopened in France two weeks ago.

Yesterday, France also hit the milestone of having given a first dose of the Covid vaccine to over 50 million people. Of these, 47.5 million are fully vaccinated. 

This makes France the eighth most vaccinated out of 30 European countries, ranked by percentage of the population having received first and second doses, by the site EuroVaccination.

France also ranks as the 12th most vaccinated country by percentage globally (73.6%), ahead of Italy (13th, 73.2%), the UK (14th, 71.2%), Germany (15th, 66.5%),  and the US (18th, 63%), figures from OurWorldinData show.

Read more: How does France’s vaccination rate compare with UK, US and rest of EU?

How do France’s health pass rules compare to other countries?

The success of France’s health pass in pushing people to get a vaccination has prompted many other countries in Europe and worldwide to introduce similar pass measures.

In early September, Health Minister Olivier Véran told France 5: “In other countries they’re talking about the health pass and its success in France. Now it’s not just three or five countries that are now doing the same thing as us: Dozens of countries are following suit.”

Read more: France health pass: 'Success leads dozens of countries to do same'

The UK, Italy, Switzerland, Germany, the US and Canada have introduced some health pass measures and conditions to enter some venues, including nightclubs, restaurants, bars, and large indoor events.

Could France take inspiration from other countries too? 

And while some countries have taken France’s lead, there are some from which France could take its own inspiration.

Countries including Denmark, Israel, Ireland, and China have had their own pass systems in place since before France introduced its health pass, ranging from QR codes to vaccine certificates.

Denmark

Denmark in particular has been hailed as a country where life is ‘almost back to normal’. 

It has had a health pass in place since April, three months before France, and with more than 70% of the population of 5.5 million vaccinated, there are now no rules for wearing masks, or for entry to public spaces.

Yet, Antoine Flahault, director of Geneva health body the Institute of Global Health, has said that it is very unlikely that France will lift all measures in the same way.

He told Le Parisien: “Compared to its population, Denmark has had four times’ fewer Covid deaths since the start of the pandemic.”

The UK

The UK’s plans for winter could also offer a useful model to follow; UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson has suggested two scenarios in his ‘Autumn and Winter Plan 2021’.

Plan A means the end of restrictions if vaccination levels are high enough. The government has said that “vaccines will continue to be our first line of defence”. PCR testing and lateral flow testing will continue, with isolation rules remaining in place for positive cases.

Masks will remain recommended, but not required, in crowded public spaces and indoors. 

Plan B, which will happen if hospitals become saturated, would mean introducing mandatory proof of vaccines in riskier settings; requiring face masks in shops and on public transport; and communicating the changing risk level to the public. It could also mean asking as many people as possible to work from home again. 

President Emmanuel Macron has suggested that he could also change plans and restrictions depending on how the situation develops over winter.

Anne Senequier, co-director of international relations think tank IRIS (Institut de Relations Internationales et Stratégiques), told Le Parisien: “In the same way, we are going to have to manage this crisis in the long term. Any measures are not likely to be permanent.”

Portugal and Netherlands

Both of these countries require a health pass in most public places, but restrictions are gradually being lifted. France could follow suit depending on the local situation.

For example, in the Netherlands, festivals are now once again allowed, and there is no longer the requirement for social distancing.

And in Portugal, which has the highest level of vaccination in Europe, mask-wearing outdoors is no longer required.

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How to get a French health pass: A guide for residents and visitors

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