Yesterday evening French president Emmanuel Macron announced a package of measures to help France control a fourth wave of Covid cases, including stricter border controls, the extension of the health passport for more everyday activities and making the vaccine compulsory for all healthcare workers.
The president made the announcement in a live TV appearance as France faces a rapid increase in Covid cases driven by the delta variant. Although overall numbers remain low – a weekly average of 5,000 new cases a week – they are climbing rapidly and the more transmissible delta variant of Covid is now the dominant strain in France. At the start of the address, Macron said:
Our country is facing a surge in the epidemic across our territory, in mainland France as well as overseas.The situation is under control, but if we do not act now the number of cases will increase significantly and will lead to a rise in hospitalisations.
Urging everyone to get vaccinated as quickly as possible, the president laid out four main changes to the existing health policies.
Compulsory vaccines – from 15 September, the vaccine will become obligatory for health and non-health workers in hospitals, clinics, retirement homes, establishments for people with disabilities, for all professionals and volunteers who work in contact with elderly or vulnerable people, including in their homes.
Health Minister Olivier Véran later clarified that unvaccinated healthcare workers will not be able to work and will not be paid from 15 September.
Furthermore, Macron said that depending on the evolution of the situation, the government will probably have to consider obligatory vaccines for everyone in France as vaccination is the only path back towards a normal life.
Health passport extension – The pass sanitaire (health passport) will be expanded until it is required for entry to venues including cinemas, restaurants, cafés, bars, nursing homes and for long-distance train and bus travel.
The health passport – giving proof of either vaccinated status, a negative Covid test or recent recovery from Covid – is already in use in France via the Tous Anti Covid app, but at present is used only for large venues like concerts and sports matches. ( I used mine last night to gain entry to the Jazz at Juan concert.)
From 21 July it will be expanded to leisure and culture venues with more than 50 people such as cinemas, theatres and museums.
From the beginning of August – an exact date was not announced – it will be further expanded again for use to enter bars, cafés, restaurants, hospitals, nursing homes and for long-distance travel by coach and train.
Charges for PCR tests – In the autumn – no exact date was given – non-medical PCR Covid tests (currently free) will have to be paid for. This covers tests taken for travel purposes or for the health passport, but Covid tests taken for medical reasons such as for people with Covid symptoms or contact cases will continue to be free.
He did not specify how much the tests would be, but the cost of tests for non-residents of France is capped at €49.
Travel restrictions – Macron said the borders would be ‘reinforced’ with extra checks at the border and compulsory quarantine for unvaccinated people coming from high risk countries.
He gave no further detail on this and did not clarify whether ‘high risk’ referred to countries on the red list or orange list of France’s traffic light travel system.
Unvaccinated arrivals from red list countries are already subject to a 10-day quarantine, which is reinforced by police checks, but arrivals from orange list countries such as the UK are only asked to do a 7-day quarantine, which is not enforced.
State of emergency – The French overseas départements of Réunion and Martinique have been placed back under a state of health emergency from Tuesday, but for mainland France, no extra restrictions such as lockdown or closures were announced.
Covid case numbers in France, which had been falling steadily for many weeks, have in the past fortnight plateaued and begun to rise again.
Although the daily figures remain relatively low – a weekly average of 5,000 cases a day – health experts are concerned that the delta variant of the virus could drive a very rapid rise in case numbers, as has already happened across the Channel where the UK is recording 35,000 cases a day.
Data from the UK, which has a higher percentage of the population vaccinated than France, shows that hospitalisation rates are rising, but much more slowly than in earlier phases of the virus.