France is reinforcing its Covid-19 testing, tracing and isolating measures as cases of the more contagious Delta variant continue to rise and the summer tourist season begins.
The Delta variant accounts for 20% of new cases nationally and 74% in Landes, the worst-hit area. A brother and sister infected with the variant have died in the Gers. Neither had been vaccinated and both had underlying health conditions.
The variant could account for 90% of new cases across Europe by September, according to The European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control. It comes as the number of people getting a first vaccination has fallen sharply to under 200,000 a day, compared to 400,000 in late May.
Covid cases remain low in France at 509 in the last 24 hours [figures relate to June 27 and are always lower at the weekend], however with the new variant rising there is a race to vaccinate as many people as possible as restrictions ease within France and more visitors are set to arrive.
A Public Health England study found a first vaccination with Pfizer (which works in the same way as Moderna) or AstraZeneca gives only 33% protection against the variant; the figures rose to 88% and 60% after a second dose.
Seven million free Covid self-testing kits are to be distributed to tourist accommodation and sites in July and August in a bid to trace cases.
Prefects will also be able to take steps to oblige people testing positive for the Delta variant to isolate if they do not do so voluntarily.
Health Minister Olivier Véran said: “We cannot take the risk of there being a new wave of the epidemic.” Centres will be established to house people unable to isolate as they are living – or on holiday – with others in close proximity.
Large numbers of tests have been given to school pupils as they break for summer and also to public and private sector workers. A further 500,000 will be given via prefectures to ‘at risk’ people.
Hundreds of specialist dogs are being trained to detect Covid on cloth samples supplied by individuals. This will start at travel hubs, airports and ports. Specialist staff will be on hand at tourist and camp sites to advise on testing, isolation and vaccination. An extra 2,000 anti-Covid staff will also support people isolating at home.
Contact tracing measures are being reinforced. Until now this has largely consisted of asking those testing positive with whom they have been in contact. Now, “a thorough investigation” will be carried out with tracing going as far as possible along transmission chains and will be undertaken by regional and national health workers.
Follow-up care for infected people who are isolating is also being strengthened. The measures follow concerns that France will struggle to reach herd immunity. Latest figures show 33 million have had a first dose now and 21 million are fully vaccinated.
Rules on travel within and beyond the EU continue to evolve (see our regular updates here).
The EU’s Digital Covid Certificate launches on July 1 to allow mutual recognition of test and vaccination certificates across the bloc.
All French certificates since June 24 should have a standardised EU QR code for this but you will need to update older ones.
Talks with the UK on compatibility with the UK system are progressing well, say EU sources, but progress is slower with the US as systems there vary by state.
France and the UK are on each other’s respective amber travel lists (the US is now on France’s green list), creating constraints for travel, though double-jabbed travellers may enter France without an essential reason or quarantine. The French consulate in London says the NHS app may be used as proof for those entering from England.
The UK plans to allow double-jabbed UK residents to return from amber countries without quarantine later this summer. No date has yet been announced for this nor if it will be extended to visitors from these countries.