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France announces six new Covid measures in bid to combat fifth wave

Vaccines for 5-11 year-olds and recommended home-working are among the new rules. Twenty-five cases of the Omicron variant have now been identified in France

People aged 65 and over can now get a booster jab in any vaccination centre without an appointment, the prime minister said, among a range of new measures to combat the fifth wave Pic: Yuganov Konstantin / Shutterstock

Prime Minister Jean Castex yesterday (December 6) announced a series of new measures to combat the fifth wave of Covid and the spread of the new variant Omicron, including vaccines for 5-11 year-olds.

At the same press conference, Health Minister Olivier Véran said that the measures were designed to be effective without needing to call on “disproportionate” measures such as a new lockdown.

Mr Castex said: “By lowering the rate of contamination by only 10%, hospitals could avoid another crisis. Without vaccination, lockdown measures would certainly have already been taken, which is not the case today, and the objective is that this will not be the case tomorrow either.”

The new measures include:
        1.People aged 65 and over can get boosters without an appointment

  • Booster doses available for 65s and over without an appointment
  • Any centre allowed
  • Same measure applies for non-vaccinated people who have now decided to get their first dose (this applies to any age group)

    2. Calls to ‘apply the brakes’ to social interactions

  • Parties and business events to be postponed where possible
  • Individuals and groups urged to “apply the brakes” to social gatherings

Mr Castex said: “My message is very simple: Until Christmas, we apply the brakes, we stop, we protect ourselves, and we protect our ability to have fun at Christmas.”

       3. Stricter health protocol in primary schools

  • Set to apply from December Thursday 9
  • Protocol raised to level 3 for maternelle and elementary schools
  • Masks mandatory from CP (age 6) level indoors and outdoors
  • Limit on sports practised indoors
  • New organisational limits in canteens, decided in consultation with local authorities, from December 13
  • Regular testing of pupils
  • Closure of classes from three positive cases upwards

    4. Vaccination for 5-11 year-olds ‘if possible by the end of the year’

  • All children aged 5-11 to be offered a vaccination if possible by the end of the year, said the health minister
  • The government is aiming for “all logistics to start vaccinating children as soon as possible” to be in place by December 20, “pending final approval from health authorities”. 
  • Health authority La Haute Autorité de santé and ethics committee the Comité consultatif national d’éthique are still due to confirm their approval of the move.

Vaccination for the 360,000 children considered to be at risk of a severe form of the illness will begin from December 15. This has already been approved by the HAS.

       5. Working from home recommended

  • Companies urged to allow employees to have at least two to three working from home days per week
  • Limit on in-person meetings

Mr Castex said: “If recommendations don’t work, we may make this mandatory.”

       6. Closure of nightclubs

  • To last four weeks from December 10 until early January
  • Financial aid to be given to businesses affected, including events companies

Mr Castex said: “We are doing this because the virus is spreading a lot among young people, and because wearing a mask is extremely difficult in these establishments. We are also doing it to align with the general message of alertness.”

But Thierry Fontaine, president of the nighttime department of hospitality union l’Union des métiers et des industries de l’hôtellerie (UMIH), said he was “scandalised” by this new measure, which comes at the “biggest period of the year”.

Summarising his approach, Mr Castex said: “We have the means to get through this new wave. It’s up to us to be responsible, to slow down on things that are risky, to get vaccinated within the right time, to stay vigilant against new risks.

“It’s especially up to us to show solidarity with the health workers who are once again under pressure, and who we must support and thank for everything they have done and continue to do today to protect our lives.

“With these proportionate measures, I am convinced that we will come through this fifth wave, just as we have with the ones before.”

Omicron cases

The new rules come as 25 new cases of the Omicron variant have been identified in mainland France, and daily cases of Covid have now passed the 50,000 threshold, three weeks before Christmas.

Read more: Covid: What will Christmas in France be like? This is what experts say

Of these, 21 cases are said to have come from people travelling back to France from Africa (where the variant was first detected), while four cases are from people who caught the variant on French soil.

Mr Véran said: “There are more than 400 confirmed cases in Europe at this stage, so it is estimated that there are probably several thousand cases in circulation that are in the process of being diagnosed. 

“In France, the very intensive sequencing we are doing on all suspected positive tests has allowed us to identify 25 positive cases of the Omicron variant.”

The government is aiming to limit the spread of Omicron, even as Delta continues to be the dominant variant in France.

The minister said: “Obviously, we are taking action, and we will continue to do so with rigour and attention, with one goal: to slow the Omicron variant.”

However, Mr Veran said that although Omicron is “not the cause of the fifth wave…we do not want to see a wave within a wave”.

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