France’s health minister has said that the “worst” of the country’s fifth Covid wave is now “behind us” and that vaccine pass rules could be removed before July.
“The infection peak has passed across the country” and “we are arriving at the hospitalisations peak,” Olivier Véran said during an interview on BFMTV.
“We have lived through the worst of Covid waves for the last two years. Even if we have further waves we have every reason to believe that they will be with less dangerous variants.”
However, Mr Véran’s optimistic stance was tempered by that of Dr Benjamin Davido, who is leading the Hôpital Raymond Poincaréde Garches’ Covid response.
“The most probable scenario is that the virus comes back next autumn,” he told Franceinfo, asking that people in France have “a little patience”.
Dr Davido added that France is heading for “something which resembles our response to the flu” but is concerned by a “delirium of complacence,” that threatens to take hold when we start to think “that’s it, Omicron has done its worst to us.”
“Obviously, we must realise that in reality, it is not going to stop with the wave of a magic wand.
“We must act, we must anticipate.”
When will vaccine passes end?
The health minister added that it was “probable” that the vaccine pass would become surplus to requirements “well before” July “considering the current dynamic of the epidemic” unless “we get some bad news.”
“If we can get rid of vaccine passes before July, we will do it. But we will need objective indications, which is what we have always used. These include the occupancy rate of intensive care beds by Covid patients.
“The 3,700 who are currently there is much too many: we are postponing treatment, we are ringing people to say ‘we can’t operate on you tomorrow because we need to save your place for someone who is – in general – unvaccinated and who is seriously ill with Covid.
“So we cannot consider [doing away with vaccine passes] today, but when intensive care units empty out [...] when there are no treatments being postponed and there are no new variants in circulation, we will be able to withdraw them.”
Mr Véran did not give details of the intensive care occupancy threshold which would allow for vaccine passes to come to an end.
The government is permitted to keep requiring vaccine passes until July 31.
Mr Véran also suggested that mask-wearing obligations in indoor spaces could be lifted “in the spring.”
Dr Davido commented that: “Doing this before the spring would seem foolish for several reasons. The first is that we know [...] that by the spring, we will be living our lives outside a bit more.
“The other factor which helps to decide whether we can get rid of mask-wearing inside is that we would hope that the population will have reached that famous collective immunity which, until now, has appeared to be a mirage.”
He added that masks should continue to be worn around sick or vulnerable people.
Relaxation of criteria for vaccine pass
Mr Véran announced a slight relaxation of the proof a person must show in order to retain their vaccine pass.
“The scientists tell us that in order to benefit from the pass, you must have been exposed at least three times, your immune system must have been targeted at least three times.
“This stimulation can come from an injection or an infection and you must have had at least one vaccine dose.
So, “you will retain your right to a vaccine pass if you have had one injection and two infections, or two injections and one infection, or three injections.”
Currently, it is only possible to create a vaccine pass with evidence of one infection and two injections or more.
If you have only caught Covid once you must still get two vaccine doses in order to continue using your pass.
Mr Véran added that seven million people risk losing their vaccine pass on February 15 – when the deadline for receiving booster doses shortens to four months – if they do not go for an additional vaccine dose before then.
Even if those who have contracted Omicron are taken into account, there would still be 4.7 million people at risk of losing their pass, he said.
Some 300,000 fake vaccine passes have been detected and will be deactivated over the coming days.
How are the figures looking?
Covid hospitalisations are still increasing, with 3,230 in the 24 hours up to yesterday. There were 30,624 people with the virus being treated in hospital a week ago.
However, Mr Véran also stated that one third of the 32,700 Covid-positive patients in hospital were actually there for another reason, so “their hospitalisation has nothing to do” with the virus.
Intensive care patient numbers remain somewhat stable, with 3,700 yesterday (February 2), compared to 3,751 on Tuesday and 3,712 a week ago.
Case numbers appear to be declining slightly: this week’s daily case number average was 306,076 infections, while last week it was 365,130.
“At least one French person in two” has had Covid since the start of the pandemic, and 15 million have had Omicron, Mr Véran said.