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No new Covid rules yet as Macron aims to keep France ‘open’

In a surprise interview last night, the President said his aim was to keep France ‘as open as possible’ and that he was aiming to ‘vaccinate everyone by summer’

France is not expected to announce new Covid restrictions this week, as President Macron states that his aim is to keep the country “as open as possible” and vaccinate everyone “by the end of the summer”.

The defence council is meeting to discuss the health situation this morning, but new restrictions are not expected to be announced this week.

It is thought that the government is seeking to wait and evaluate the effects of the restrictions already announced by Prime Minister Jean Castex on Friday (January 29) - including the closure of non-food commercial centres of more than 20,000m2 and the curfew measures in place nationwide - before deciding on any more rules.

Read more: Covid France rules: Large non-food commercial centres close

An ‘open’ but ‘responsible’ country

In a surprise interview with TF1 last night, President Macron said: “[Our aim] is to have a country as open as possible, despite the virus.”

He said: “We will continue to manage this protect the most vulnerable, to protect our health system, and to protect our young people who need to study and go to school.”

Calling for the public to continue staying alert and “responsible” he added: “It is our task, all of us, meaning our capacity to maintain barrier gestures [and] to respect the three steps of test-alert-protect.

“Collectively, we must continue to be extraordinarily responsible, for which I thank you. I will aim to take appropriate decisions at each stage.”

The government is keeping a close eye on virus numbers, it said, especially in light of the new variants, particularly that first identified in the UK.

A government source told news service FranceInfo: “We are unlikely to see a major announcement this week [but the defence council] is keeping a very close eye on more precise data on the UK variant.”

The source added: “We must let the measures announced on Friday take effect. Emmanuel Macron still wants to do everything possible to avoid a new confinement. For the moment, that will stay in place until the holidays.

“But beware: it could change in a few days if the [virus case] numbers explode.”

February holidays for schools in Zone A begin this Saturday.

Read more: February holidays in France still possible - so far

Lockdown not ruled out completely

Mr Macron did not rule out the possibility of a further lockdown if needed and said that the vaccination campaign would not halt the spread of the virus in the meantime.

He said: “Our vaccination strategy is not what will allow us to avoid confinement in the short term, or not.”

The President said that the vaccination campaign would not be enough to "allow us to respond to the pressure in hospitals and in intensive care units".

This is contrary to the claims made recently by UK Health Secretary Matt Hancock.

Mr Hancock has hailed a study showing that the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine may be reducing the spread of Covid-19 as “absolutely superb”, and “really encouraging”.

He said that “vaccines are the way out of this pandemic”.

The new study by the University of Oxford - which has not yet been formally published - suggests that the vaccine may be having a “substantial” effect on the virus spread. It showed that the vaccine offered 76% protection against the virus for three months, with just a single dose (even before the second jab required for complete protection).

After the second dose, this protection rises to 82%, the study showed, and suggested that the effectiveness of the vaccine actually rose when there was a gap of 12 weeks between doses.

It is the first study to suggest that vaccines could be playing a major role in reducing transmission.

So far, the UK has given at least one vaccine dose to 9.6 million people. The figure in France is 1,541,079 (of which 67,993 have received both doses).

Also in France, the government has said that the AstraZeneca vaccine will only be given to people aged under 65.

Read more: AstraZeneca vaccine recommended for under 65s in France

Vaccinations for all ‘by summer’

Yet, the President was optimistic about the vaccination campaign in France overall, saying that the aim is for the entire country to be vaccinated by the summer, and 80% of people in elderly care homes by the beginning of March.

He said: “[France will be able to offer] a vaccination to all adults in France who want it... by the end of the summer.”

Mr Macron also said that four sites in France will begin producing vaccines from the end of February to the beginning of March. These will work primarily on the Pfizer/BioNTech, Moderna and CureVac jabs.

The President also spoke of the importance of ensuring that all countries - including poorer nations - have enough doses. He said that manufacturing sites in Europe would be converted so they could produce the jab, including a site belonging to French-based biopharmaceutical company Sanofi, in Germany.

He said: “We will secure 2.3 billion vaccines in Europe. We hope to make even more.”

He added that it was important to “anticipate vaccine recalls” and “adapt the vaccines” as and when needed, especially in light of the new variants across the world - including the UK, Brazil and South Africa.


Russian vaccine?

President Macron had a measured response on the subject of the Russian vaccine, Sputnik V, which a study has shown provides 91.6% effectiveness against the virus.

He said that the vaccine could not be distributed in France until it had received proper authorisation.

He said: “As soon as the manufacturer submits an authorisation request, European and national authorities will scientifically consider this vaccine in an independent way, and, depending on the results, will approve it or not.

“It is not a political decision, but a scientific one.”

He said that a few weeks ago he had “taken the initiative to send a scientific ‘mission’ to Russia, to speak with the teams there”, and said that “these exchanges were positive”.

Read more: Macron: Russian Covid vaccine welcome if given approval

Positive response

Mr Macron’s projected vaccination timeline has been welcomed by Dr. Jacques Battistoni, president of GP union MG France.

Dr Battistoni told FranceInfo: “This is very good news if we can do it. The condition is, obviously, that we have enough vaccines. We can see that since January we have been struggling with the low number of vaccines available.

He also welcomed Mr Macron’s announcement of four new manufacturing sites.

He said: “It is absolutely imperative that we increase our production capacity and that we can respond to demand and that the public that wants to be vaccinated, can quickly access the vaccine.

“For the virus to calm down, we must vaccinate a sufficiently-large quantity of the population, probably between 60-70%. As long as we haven’t achieved a high enough figure, the virus will continue to spread.”

The doctor said that he estimated this would take until at least “the end of winter, or spring”, and that “with the summer, we will manage to achieve [enough] vaccinations and slow the epidemic.”

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