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France to begin lifting Covid restrictions in February: The key points

The Covid vaccine pass is to come into force from January 24 if validated by France’s constitutional court

Jean Castex

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announces a gradual easing of Covid restrictions on January 20, 2022 Pic: Screenshot / Franceinfo

Covid-related restrictions put in place at the end of December, such as the ban on standing concerts and the obligatory wearing of masks in outdoor areas, are to be removed in two stages beginning on February 2, it was announced tonight (January 20).

This will be possible due to the introduction of a Covid vaccine pass, Prime Minister Jean Castex said during a joint press conference with the health minister Olivier Véran.

The vaccine pass will be rolled out from Monday, January 24, subject to approval from the constitutional court. 

Read more: France to bring in vaccine passes: What will change and when?

Read more: France vaccine pass: Opposition party to appeal to constitutional body

The prime minister also announced that from Monday, all those aged 12 to 17 will be eligible to receive a Covid booster shot. Previously it was only available to this age bracket if they were at risk of serious forms of Covid or who lived with people at risk of serious forms of Covid.

The announcement comes at a time when Covid case rates have never been as high in France. The latest figures show there have been an average of just under 300,000 reported positive Covid tests per day in the past week. 

Read more: Coronavirus: Daily updates on the situation in France

Key announcements made tonight include:

  • From February 2: Masks will no longer be mandatory outside (they remain obligatory on public transport and in indoor public spaces); remote working will no longer be mandatory (although it will remain recommended); the crowd limit at sports and cultural events will be lifted when the audience is seated (however masks must be worn in these events). Current crowd limits are set at 2,000 people indoors, 5,000 people outdoors
  • From February 16: Nightclubs will reopen; standing concerts will be allowed again; the consumption of alcohol while standing in bars will be permitted
  • The Covid vaccine pass will be rolled out from Monday January 24 if approved by the constitutional court on Friday January 21
  • The vaccine pass will apply to everyone aged 16 and over in relation to leisure-oriented public spaces where a health pass is currently required, for example, restaurants, cinemas and bars as well as long-distance travel, including TGVs.
    It will not be required to enter hospitals, nursing homes or other healthcare facilities - (a negative Covid test, valid for 24 hours, could be used for this)
  • People who receive their first vaccine dose by February 15 can get a vaccine pass immediately, if they also get a negative Covid test (which will remain valid for 24 hours), and commit to getting a second dose within one month
  • The vaccine pass measures could be ended if pressure on healthcare services reduces sufficiently 
  • Booster shots are to open for all 12 to 17 year olds from Monday January 24.
  • The government is pushing for faster vaccination for five to 11 year olds. Pharmacists and nurses will be able to vaccinate this demographic
  • The government is considering relaxing Covid measures in schools after the February holidays (which are staggered by area of France). This could involve ending mask wearing for primary school pupils and/or relaxing Covid test requirements
  • The government has not yet decided if masks must be worn in nightclubs when they reopen on February 16. The health situation at the time will determine the exact rules for this and for entry to the clubs.

What else did the Prime Minister say?

Mr Castex said that France has been facing an “exceptional” wave of Covid due to the simultaneous circulation of the Delta and Omicron variants.

“[Omicron] has already affected more than five million of us, and probably at least double that if we add in the estimated number of those who did not get tested due to a lack of noticeable symptoms,” he said. 

He said the wave was not yet over but that the situation is “beginning to change for the better”. 

However, he warned that the Omicron variant was dangerous.

“Even when weakened, this virus is not a harmless one. It is definitely not a simple flu,” he said.

“In a normal year, the flu epidemic causes an average of 10,000 hospital admissions over the winter period. With Omicron, we reached this figure not in three months, but in five days.”

He also defended the transformation of the health pass into a vaccine pass, saying the measure was consistent.

“It is necessary if we want to preserve and increase our vaccination coverage, both now and in the future in case of new variants.”

This was also the view of MPs earlier this week. Read more about that here: French MPs deny Covid vaccine pass comes too late to make a difference.

Separately, labour minister Elisabeth Borne yesterday (January 19) announced that rules requiring people to work from home at least three days a week (if they are able to) will remain in place for another two weeks. 

Related stories:

Leading French scientist: variant of Omicron may cause new Covid wave

New virus tracking tool estimates Covid contact risks in France

French school strike: renewed action taking place today

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