French PM announces lifting of Covid restrictions and start date for vaccine pass

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday a two-step process for the lifting of some of France's remaining Covid restrictions, as well as confirming the start date for when the vaccine pass will come into force.

French prime minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran
French prime minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran. Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

The Prime Minister announced that the health pass will become a vaccine pass – denying entry for the unvaccinated to a variety of venues including bars, cafés and leisure centres – on Monday, January 24th.

Read full details HERE on the changes to the vaccine pass.

Also on January 24th, the vaccine booster programme will be opened up to children aged 12-17, although it will not be compulsory for this group to have a booster in order to be considered “fully vaccinated” for the purpose of the vaccine pass.

While cautioning that the health situation in the country remains tense, Castex said that a few more weeks of allowing hospital pressure to reduce, coupled with the effect of the vaccine pass, will allow the government to lift some restrictions.

You can find the detailed calendar of the changes HERE.

The two-step process is as follows:

From February 2nd:

  • Face masks will no longer be required outdoors
  • Limits on gatherings – currently set at 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors will end
  • Working from home for three days a week will no longer be compulsory, although it remains recommended for those who can

From February 16th:

  • Customers in venues including cinemas and sports grounds as well as passengers on trains will again to allowed to consume food and drinks
  • Bars will be permitted to offer standing service, as well as table service
  • Nightclubs which have been closed since early December can reopen

Others restrictions will remain in place, including the requirement for masks in indoor public areas.

The PM added that he hoped some rules could also be relaxed in schools on their return after the February holidays including mask rules, but added that this was still the subject of consultation.

French MPs last week passed the bill that allows the health pass to be converted into a vaccine pass – meaning that proof of vaccination will be required to enter a range of venues including sports grounds, gyms, leisure centres, bars, cafés, restaurants, tourist sites, cinemas, theatres and long-distance public transport.

An exact date for its start had not previously been confirmed.

Castex added that the vaccine pass will require either proof of complete vaccination (including booster shots for those eligible), proof of recent recovery from Covid or a certificate stating that a person cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – these are issued by the state health system. 

There are some exemptions to this requirement, where a negative Covid test will be accepted instead, including children aged 12 to 16 and people needing entry to medical establishments as visitors or for non-urgent medical treatment.

Case numbers in France remain extremely high, with more than 400,000 new cases announced on each of the last three days.

However the case numbers don’t seem to be translating into exceptionally high numbers of patients in hospitals and intensive care units, although these numbers are rising and hospitals are under pressure.

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French Mediterranean resort’s far-right mayor bans burkinis

The far-right mayor of a resort on the Mediterranean coast of France has banned Muslim women from wearing burkinis in any of the town's swimming pools or beaches - despite previous court rulings saying that this is illegal.

French Mediterranean resort's far-right mayor bans burkinis

Three days after the southeastern city of Grenoble voted to allow swimmers to wear the full-cover swimsuit, the mayor of Fréjus – a member of Marine Le Pen’s far right Rassemblement National party – announced that he had decided to outlaw it.

“I learned with amazement of the authorisation given by the mayor of Grenoble to authorise the burkini in the swimming pools of its commune,” David Rachline wrote in a press release. 

READ ALSO OPINION: If France is to belong in a multicultural world it must accept its Muslim women

In fact, Grenoble updated its rules for municipal swimming pools to allow all bathers to wear any swimsuit – including burkinis – that protected them from the sun. It also permits women to swim topless if they wish and men to wear swim shorts instead of Speedos.

No-one seems to have had an issue with the swim shorts or the topless rule, but the addition of the ‘burkini’ to the list of accepted swimwear caused a major stir, with many lining up to condemn the move – including France’s Interior Minister Gérald Darmanin, who ordered the local Préfet to review the decision, and later announced that he had asked for a legal challenge to the new regulations.

READ ALSO French government aims to block ‘burkinis’ in swimming pools

Rachline has pre-empted any decision from the government by acting unilaterally, trotting out the familiar refrain from the right that the decision in Grenoble goes against the “fundamental republican principle of secularism”.

“The express authorisation of the burkini is neither more nor less than an electoral provocation with a communitarian spring, implemented by the radical left,” he said.

“I see a culpable complacency with radical Islamism, for electoral purposes and in defiance of national cohesion.

“In order for things to be clearly stated, I have decided, as mayor of Fréjus, guarantor of public hygiene and safety, to modify the corresponding decrees to explicitly specify the ban on the burkini.”

His ban extends to both the town’s municipal swimming pools and its beaches, and he’s not the first southern mayor to attempt to ban burkinis on beaches.

In 2016, Cannes mayor David Lisnard issued an anti-burkini order on the beaches of his town.

The decision, which had also been taken in municipalities such as Villeneuve-Loubet (Alpes-Maritimes), was overturned after an opinion from the Conseil d’Etat, one of France’s highest legal authorities.