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End of free tests, third vaccine dose: France’s tighter Covid measures

Covid tests for leisure and travel will no longer be free from mid-October, third Covid vaccine doses will be given to the most at risk from September, and the health pass is to be required in shopping centres in departments with a high number of Covid cases

A Covid test centre offering free tests

Covid-19 tests will no longer be free in France from mid-October without a medical prescription Pic: GiulianiBruno / Shutterstock

France’s government spokesman announced new Covid-related measures this afternoon (August 11) after a weekly Covid meeting between President Macron and top ministers. 

Several of them had already been alluded to by President Macron last month, but have now been firmed up.

Covid-19 tests taken without a medical prescription will no longer be free for French nationals and residents from mid-October, spokesman Gabriel Attal said. The measure aims at encouraging vaccination, as a recent test, full vaccination or proof of recovery from Covid – known as the 'health pass' (see below) – is now needed for many activities.

“We have decided to put an end to free tests without a medical prescription, in line with the announcement made by the President of the Republic in his speech on July 12, and the choices made by a number of our European neighbours,” he said. Germany announced yesterday it would end free non-medical Covid tests from October 11.

Mr Attal added: "Repeated tests don't stop you going to hospital or infecting others. By mid-October everyone will have the time to get organised and take responsibility."

This will relate to tests taken for purposes such as leisure activities or long-distance travel (for those who cannot show full vaccination or having had Covid and recovered from it) or for other voluntary reasons such as reassuring oneself before visiting a vulnerable relative.

Read more: France cannot continue spending €1bn a month on Covid tests

Mr Attal also said that France will begin giving third doses of Covid vaccines to the most at-risk people from mid-September, with bookings for appointments opening at the end of this month.

Those eligible will be defined by health system quality regulator the Haute Autorité de Santé. However this is expected to concern elderly people and those with serious health conditions, who had first doses at the end of last year and start of the year.

The head of the government's vaccination council, Alain Fischer, told FranceInfo over-80s, especially those living in nursing homes, were likely to be the first priority along with those with immune system disorders.

In departments where the Covid incidence rate – meaning the average number of cases per 100,000 in the past week –  is over 200, masks will be required in venues subject to health pass rules.

Masks have not been required by national law in venues where the health pass system is in place since July 21, although many venues around the country continued to ask customers to wear them, as they are permitted to do. 

Mr Attal also said that in departments with an incidence rate of over 200, the health pass will be required in shopping centres of over 20,000m2. Previously, it had been up to local prefects to decide if the health pass was needed for shopping centres.

It is mainly departments in the south of France that will be affected by this, as almost all of them have an incidence rate of over 200.

The map below shows the incidence rate of French departments. Departments coloured red have an incidence rate of between 150 and 250, so some of those will be affected by these new rules. 

The departments coloured brown all have an incidence rate of between 250 and 400, and the purple departments have an incidence rate above 400.

The Covid incidence rate in France, as of August 10, 2021 Pic:

Mr Attal added that checks at France's borders would also be "tougher, more drastic than before", and he said it would be preferable for antigen tests to now be carried out on all passengers arriving from "at-risk countries".

What is the French health pass?

The health pass is not a specific document but a way to prove you do not have Covid-19. 

It is not restricted to vaccination and demonstrating your health pass on entry to a venue effectively means you must show either:

  • Proof of vaccination,
  • Or proof of a negative Covid test taken within the past 48 hours (PCR or rapid antigen)
  • Or proof of having been positive with Covid 11 days to six months before entering the space

These documents can be shown in paper format, digitally, or through the phone application TousAntiCovid.

Typically, there will be a QR code attached to the document that staff at the venue can scan to verify your proof. 

Related stories:

Checklist: Where and when should I use the French Covid health pass?

France extends health pass: Rules for residents and tourists

Macron: Our overseas Covid explosion is cruel proof that vaccines work

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