President Emmanuel Macron will meet with key ministers this afternoon (December 27) to discuss the Covid situation in France and the possibility of introducing new measures.
Topics under discussion are expected to include increased mask-wearing rules, a possible New Year’s eve curfew and potentially delaying the reopening of schools.
It comes after 104,611 cases were recorded in one day on December 24, a new record for France. Admissions to intensive care units are up by 4% from the previous week but the rate has remained quite stable since mid-December. The rate of hospital admissions has also remained stable since around mid-December.
The number of people dying in hospital from Covid is up 10% from the previous week to around 160 a day. This remains far below peaks last April when over 300 people per day were dying.
The president will meet with his cabinet members at 16:00, with a press conference held by government spokesman Gabriel Attal expected to follow later this evening.
There are several options reported to be under examination by the government to stem the fifth pandemic wave, fuelled by the Omicron variant. These include introducing a vaccine pass, prolonging the school holidays and a possible New Year’s Eve curfew.
From health pass to vaccine pass
A major item on the agenda will be discussing the draft bill proposing turning the current Covid health pass into a vaccine pass. This would mean that a negative test would no longer be enough to enter certain places, such as cafés, restaurants, bars and cinemas. This could also be the case for long-distance transport options, such as buses and trains, which are currently subject to health pass rules.
The government is aiming to have this new law in place by mid-January, France Info reports.
The vaccine pass would not be required to access medical services or visit patients in hospitals or care homes, LCI news channel reports.
Masks in outdoor spaces
One possible measure that could be decided upon is bringing back mandatory mask wearing in outdoor spaces, particularly in cities or when larger crowds gather.
“We are going to take less strong but more sustainable measures,” FranceInfo reports one minister as saying.
“These measures may seem modest compared to other waves of [Covid] but today we have the vaccines,” they said.
Delay the return to school
Around 50 health professionals have written an open letter to France’s health minister Olivier Véran calling for more measures to curb the spread of Covid in schools. The letter was published in the Journal du Dimanche (JDD) on Sunday (December 26).
They called for the school holidays to be extended, with the children currently set to go back on January 3.
However, FranceInfo reports that prolonging the holidays is not likely to be brought in.
A possible New Year’s Eve curfew
One measure that has had plenty of attention in the French media is the possibility of a curfew on December 31, which would effectively cancel New Year’s Eve celebrations.
A curfew was in place for last year’s celebrations.
Official events celebrating the new year, including gatherings and firework displays, have already widely been cancelled this year.
However, many believe it is unlikely that a curfew will be brought in at such a late stage this year.
Relaxation of Omicron self-isolation rules
On December 13, the government introduced specific self-isolation rules for people who are in contact with someone who tests positive with the Omicron variant.
It means that the person must self-isolate for seven days, a figure that rises to 17 if they share the same household as the person who tests positive.
With the Delta variant, a fully vaccinated person who is in contact with a positive case does not need to self-isolate, but must take two Covid tests instead – one after being in contact with the person and a second five to seven days later.
The government is reportedly considering reducing the isolation period for contact cases of the Omicron variant in order to cut down on the number of people missing work – particularly in key service industries.
Test plus vaccination for certain activities
As well as the vaccine pass, the government is also looking at introducing a system of vaccination certificate plus negative Covid test in order to do certain activities. The system is being considered mainly for flights to France’s overseas territories.
Yaël Braun-Pivet, an MP for Mr Macron’s La République En Marche!, said that it is not envisaged that this combination of passes would be required for daily activities, such as going to cafés and restaurants.
Shorter gap between vaccination doses
France's health service quality regulator, the Haute Autorité de Santé (HAS), has said that it is possible to reduce the gap between a second Covid dose and a booster third dose from four to three months.
The government could follow this advice, as it commonly does with reports made by the HAS.
Heavier fines for fake passes
The widening need for people to have a Covid vaccination certificate has also led to increasing reports of people trying to obtain real certificates without ever having been vaccinated.
Currently, a person caught in possession of a falsely acquired pass can be fined up to €750. This is reduced to €135 if it is paid immediately. In the event of a repeat offence within 15 days, the fine rises to a maximum of €1,500.
If there are more than three violations within 30 days, the penalty increases to six months' imprisonment and a fine of €3,750.
The government is considering simplifying this to a direct fine of €1,000.