French health minister defends easing of Covid rules despite case rise

He cited examples of Germany and Italy where Covid mask wearing rules and passes have been maintained but which are both also experiencing a rebound

Health Minister Olivier Véran has said that it was the ‘right decision’ to relax Covid rules
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France’s health minister has said that it was “the right decision” to relax vaccine pass and mask-wearing rules despite the recent rebound in Covid case numbers.

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“The Institute Pasteur models are telling us that [infections] will rise until the end of March – we are likely to reach 120,000 to 150,000 per day – and then we expect them to fall,” Olivier Véran told Franceinfo today (March 16).

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He added that there is “no risk of hospitals becoming overwhelmed. We knew that there we risked a rebound in cases and we are seeing it, but it is not [exclusively] French.

“If you asked me whether there was a correlation between the fact that we have lifted restrictions and the epidemic rebound, I would say: ‘Look at Germany, look at Italy’.”

These two countries “are experiencing an epidemic rebound even though they have maintained their health pass or vaccine pass [systems]” and “though they have maintained mask-wearing in enclosed spaces. In Italy they have even made FFP2 masks obligatory in shops.”

Mr Véran added that “there is no new variant of concern circulating today,” although the government is still encouraging “vulnerable people to keep wearing masks.”

When asked if the government would consider opening up the fourth vaccine dose campaign to 65 to 80-year-olds, Mr Véran responded that: “If we observed that the infection rate was rising [among this age group], or that the rebound would last three or four weeks rather than two, we would consider it.”

Currently, this additional vaccine dose is only being offered to over-80s and care home residents.

Read more: Fourth Covid vaccine dose now available in France for the over-80s

Mr Véran added that there are currently “several tens of thousands, perhaps 60,000-70,000” people suffering from long Covid.

Pandemic ‘is not finished’

Mr Véran’s comments come as France’s Covid advisory body the Conseil scientifique warned in a document published on Monday (March 14): “The epidemic is not over!”

The Conseil also warned against the “trivialisation” of the pandemic as restrictions ease, reminding readers that “more than 50,000 new cases are being detected each day and [we have] an infection rate of around 630 cases per 100,000 people.

Yesterday there were 116,618 new Covid cases reported in France, and 146 deaths. The country’s infection rate has risen to 679 per 100,000 and its R rate has tipped back over to above one, meaning that case numbers are actively rising once again.

“More than 50%” of these cases are due to the Omicron subvariant BA.2, which is “more transmissible” but “not more severe” than Omicron itself, the Conseil said.

It also stated that France’s high vaccination rates are helping to limit the translation of case numbers into hospitalisations, but added that around four million adults are still not vaccinated and nearly five million people have not had a booster dose.

“The number of hospitalisations will rise temporarily in the coming weeks,” it said. However, the arrival of spring and warmer weather should help to curb the rebound in cases.

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