France’s health minister and prime minister are to hold a press conference at 19:00 this evening to outline a “precise, detailed calendar for the lifting of restrictions in our country.”
It is believed that while the restrictions introduced in December will remain in place in the immediate short-term, they will gradually be eased in the coming weeks.
This evening’s announcement is expected to include details on the relaxation of capacity limits on hospitality venues, as well as an indication on when nightclubs may be allowed to reopen.
Labour Minister Elisabeth Borne has already announced that rules surrounding remote working will remain in place for another two weeks.
It has also been suggested that the government may consider changes in its testing strategy, which several members of the scientific community have criticised, claiming that self-administered and antigen tests are not effective enough in detecting Omicron.
Le Parisien reports that the Haute Autorité de Santé health service quality regulator is studying the potential for saliva tests to be more effective in spotting cases belonging to this variant.
There is also pressure on the education ministry to simplify the Covid rules in place in schools and provide more extensive protective equipment for teachers.
Tonight’s speech was announced by government spokesperson Gabriel Attal, following a new Conseil de défense sanitaire pandemic response meeting held today (January 20), whose aim was to “give visibility” to the government’s plan in the face of the Omicron wave.
Mr Attal said that lycée pupils will know “in the coming days” whether baccalauréat exams scheduled for March will be postponed or not.
400,000 daily Covid cases
The rule relaxation calendar comes in a week where more than 400,000 people have tested positive for Covid in a single day on more than one occasion, and the occupancy rate of hospital beds exceeds 75%.
“The epidemic is still growing,” said Mr Attal during today’s press conference. “But even if we are approaching the peak, as some scientists believe, we are noticing a drop of 15% in the number of patients in intensive care.
“If we have succeeded in avoiding a catastrophic scenario [as a result of Omicron], it is because the vaccine has played its role as a shield very well.”
“It is not the moment to ease restrictions! It would not be coherent with the introduction of the vaccine pass and the hospitalisation peak, which has still not been reached,” a government source told BFMTV.
Read more: French MPs deny Covid vaccine pass comes too late to make a difference
“It is too early to lift restrictions today, as we have not passed the peak, we need a couple more weeks,” they added.
The French government’s press conference tonight follows the UK government’s decision to return to ‘Plan A’ restrictions in England from yesterday (January 19). This means that people will no longer need to wear face masks in enclosed public spaces or show Covid passes at certain venues.
One step closer to the introduction of vaccine passes
While it considers the future lifting of Covid rules on home-working and hospitality venues, the government is preparing for the introduction of its new vaccine pass system, which was given final approval by the Assemblée nationale on Sunday (January 16).
This will, however, need to be examined by the Conseil constitutionnel, which must give its approval before the bill is made law. This is expected tomorrow (January 21).
With the introduction of the vaccine pass, people will need to show proof of vaccination or of recent recovery from Covid in order to enter leisure-based public places where a health pass is currently required, such as restaurants and cinemas.
The bill also seeks to increase the penalties imposed on people who present fake passes, and enable venue managers to carry out identity checks if they believe that a pass is not genuine.