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POLITICS

What to expect as France to announce timetable to lift Covid restrictions

The French government will on Thursday give a press conference laying out a timetable to lift Covid restrictions.

Emmanuel Macron at the Defence Council
French president Emmanuel Macron will chair a meeting of the Defence Council. Photo: Lewis Joly/AFP

The government’s Defence Council met Thursday – one day later than usual due to president Emmanuel Macron’s trip to the European Parliament on Wednesday – to consider the latest health situation.

After the meeting, it was announced that Prime Minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran will give a press conference at 7pm on Thursday.

In it, they will lay out a timetable to lift some of France’s Covid restrictions.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said: “A precise timetable will be presented at 7pm” regarding the lifting of restrictions. “The arrival of the vaccine pass will certainly allow for the alleviation of some measures that remain in force today.”

Remote working, gathering limits and nightclubs

Extra restrictions were imposed in France just before New Year’s Eve. Described at the time as temporary measures, these are the ones most likely to be lifted first.

They were;

  • Compulsory télétravail (working from home) for at least three days a week, ideally four days, for those who can. Businesses found not to be complying can be fined up to €500 per employee
  • Gatherings (excluding marches, demonstrations and political meetings) are limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors
  • Nightclubs are closed and dancing is also banned in bars. Bars and cafés are limited to table service only, standing at the bar is not allowed.

The nightclub closure order currently runs until Monday, January 24th, but there are reports that ministers want to extend it by at least two weeks.

Likewise the Labour Minister is reported to want to extend the home-working guidance for at least another two weeks.

Mask wearing

In mid December the mask-wearing rule was extended to cover all indoor public areas, including those such as cinemas that are covered by the health pass.

At the same time eating was also banned in venues including cinemas and sports stadia, in order to ensure customers remain masked.

Numerous local authorities including Paris have also issued their own orders mandating masks in crowded outdoor spaces such as markets and – in resort towns – queues for ski lifts.

The government is unlikely to directly overrule local authorities, and with soaring case rates due to the Omicron variant it seems likely that mask mandates will remain in place for some weeks yet.

The most recent changes are likely to be lifted first, rather than a complete scrapping of all mask-wearing rules, which have been in place since May 2020.

School rules

Teachers striking on Thursday over the Covid protocols for schools, which they say are chaotic and put teachers at risk.

The government already made some concessions after last week’s strike, but with pressure mounting and the Education Minister’s Ibiza holiday becoming a political issue, there could be further announcements designed to placate teachers and end the strikes – another one is planned for next Thursday.

EXPLAINED: What links a French teachers’ strike and Ibiza?

Health pass

France’s health pass is shortly to become a vaccine pass, requiring people to be fully vaccinated in order to enter a wide range of venues including bars, cafés, gyms, leisure centres, tourist sites and long-distance trains.

READ ALSO What changes when France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass?

This has been a flagship policy for the government and it has recently expended quite some effort in order to get the new vaccine pass mandate through parliament, so it seems unlikely this will be lifted soon.

Organisers of the French Open – which takes place in May – are already warning that unvaccinated tennis players will not be able to take part in the tournament.

Travel rules

Travel rules do not generally form part of the Defence Council’s strategy and any changes are usually announced separately. 

Since the lifting of a ban on almost all types of travel to and from the UK, the French rules allow travel for any reason for vaccinated travellers from all countries, including those on the red list, without a quarantine requirement.

Unvaccinated travellers from red and orange countries – which includes the USA, UK and Canada – can only travel if their trip is essential. Find full details of the traffic light travel system HERE.

Health situation

As ever, any lifting of rules depends on the health situation, which at present is still tense in France.

The Omicron variant, which now makes up 98 percent of cases, is driving huge daily case numbers – more than 400,000 new cases have been reported for two days in a row, an all-time French record.

Recent analysis from the Covidtracker team found that going into a restaurant in Paris that has 50 or more customers or staff carries a 98 percent risk that at least one person will have Covid.

However the massive case numbers do not at present seem to be translating into very high numbers of hospitalisations, although the numbers of Covid patients in hospital and in intensive care units are rising and hospitals are under pressure.

ANALYSIS: How dangerous are France’s sky-high Covid rates?

The government is hoping that the change of the health pass to a vaccine pass will push vaccination rates higher, since vaccinated people who contract Covid are significantly less likely to end up in intensive care. Across the country, 80 percent of Covid ICU patients are unvaccinated and of the rest, nearly 90 percent have suppressed immune systems due to other illnesses.

Member comments

  1. ” … nearly 90 percent have suppressed immune systems due to other illnesses.” This strikes me as something that’s supposed to make non-disabled people feel better: only disabled people are ending up in the ICU and dying. Talk about ableism. This whole pandemic approach — by every country in the world, and by individuals of all political persuasions, as well — has made it clear that people with disabilities are expendable. As someone with a daughter who has a chronic illness and at great risk if she contracts the virus, I continue to live as if it were March 2020. I don’t go to restaurants. I don’t go to a store unless it’s necessary. I’m vaccinated/boosted. I wear a mask everywhere. I do this for my daughter AND for everyone else who is in a similar situation. I have seen my daughter only twice since the pandemic started. Some of us can’t pretend that it’s over.

    1. Mary, I think you misread the article. It says that 80 percent of all ICU cases are unvaccinated. For vaccinated people in ICU, 90 percent of them have underlying health conditions. That means about 18% of all cases are vaccinated people with underlying health conditions.

      1. Hi Mike: I didn’t misread the article. I’m pointing out that the tone of almost every statement related to people with “underlying health conditions” is that non-disabled people are meant to be comforted by it. Like, “Oh, good! I’ll be fine even if I get the virus because it’s mostly disabled people who are in the ICU and dying.” My daughter and people like her have felt like expendable, second-class citizens. People want this pandemic to be over, but wishing won’t make it so. Removing restrictions won’t make it so. And many non-disabled people have gotten Covid and have BECOME disabled by it. It’s way too early to make these kinds of moves to get back to a “normal” that will never exist again.

        1. Hi Mary. I agree that we shouldn’t expect to get ‘back to normal’ yet, or maybe even ever. And I know unvaccinated people who think that if they do get infected it won’t be serious for them. But the article makes it clear that nearly all the people in ICU are unvaccinated (80%), without saying whether they have other underlying health conditions or not. I wish your daughter was better cared for, and I hope she gets through this OK.

          1. Thank you, Mike. She lives in England and works for a very prestigious institution there. Today, she and 300 other people in one department were all told that starting Feb. 1, everyone is back to work in the office full time with no mask requirement. If they don’t comply, they will likely get fired (literally, the person leading the meeting said this). There are very few options for people like her. She went Human Resources before to ask for accommodation — a bus pass for the year, just partially paid for by the institution — and was rejected. Another time, she went to HR with a request and no one ever responded to her at all.

  2. That sounds grim. Possibly unlawful under the terms of the Disability Discrimination Act. She might consider discussing this with a trade union representative. Best wishes.

  3. Mary , the fact is nations have impoverished themselves for many years to protect the vulnerable. There are immense consequences of doing so to peoples mental and physical health. The vulnerable always have been and always will be at risk. I say this as a person with Lupus. I don’t expect life to stop and other people suffer economic, mental and physical detriment because of my condition. Can’t you see THAT is a selfish stance to take. You either need to protect yourself are get on and enjoy life or you can carry no risk and stay home in bed. People have lost all sense and reason. The governments everywhere have made people far too fearful to obtain compliance- even admitting so in coarse language. Stop hating and start living . In a few weeks when Omicron is much reduced with much lower hospital admissions we must get on with life if only for the sake of our children.

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POLITICS

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. 

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