France to announce plan for lifting COVID restrictions

Omicron variant

French Prime Minister Jean Castex will on Thursday set out a timetable for a gradual lifting of COVID-19 rules and restrictions in the coming months, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

Castex will lay out the calendar along with Health Minister Olivier Veran at a press conference following a cabinet meeting on the health crisis, with France recording an average of nearly 310,000 daily cases over the past week.

On Tuesday, France posted a record 464,769 new cases in a 24-hour period.

The highly contagious Omicron variant has sparked a surge in infections but the number of COVID patients in intensive care has been falling since early January to around 3,850 people currently.

“We have seen that incidence rates are still rising, but we also know that the Omicron variant results in fewer serious cases than the Delta variant,” Attal said.

He added that “there are hopes the Omicron wave could peak soon.”

The government announced a series of measures in early December to try to contain a fifth wave of cases, and on Sunday parliament approved the creation of a “vaccine pass” for entering restaurants, cinemas, museums and other public venues.

Previously a recent negative COVID test could also be used to obtain the pass for unvaccinated people.

But the government ended the option in a bid to push more people to get the jabs—though 90 percent of adults are already vaccinated.

“The French are waiting for a clarification of the timetable and the conditions that could lead to an end (of the pass requirement) as soon as the health situation allows,” Attal said.

Rising hopes

Nightclubs remain closed and capacity limits have been reimposed for concerts, sporting matches and other events at 2,000 people indoors, and 5,000 outside—with no standing areas allowed.

No eating or drinking is authorised in theatres, sporting venues, cinemas or public transport, and companies have been ordered to have eligible employees work from home at least three days per week, or face huge fines.

Studies have indicated that Omicron is less dangerous than other virus variants, fuelling hope that authorities will be able to ease social distancing and face mask rules for populations desperate for a return to normality.

The British government said Wednesday that most restrictions would be lifted starting next week, including the requirement for a COVID pass proving vaccination to enter public venues, citing data that showed infections had peaked.

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