France is experiencing a surge in COVID-19 infections and has announced tighter restrictions due to concerns over the spread of the Omicron variant. Though studies suggest that the Omicron variant is milder than the Delta strain, some fear that the massive number of infections could end up overwhelming hospital systems.
Talking to reporters, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said that the COVID-19 pandemic felt like “a film without an ending” while unveiling new containment measures. “The situation is extremely tense in France and Europe. A new wave is sweeping our continent,” the prime minister said.
Among the new restrictions, France will soon require citizens to show a vaccination pass to enter bars, restaurants, and museums. At present, citizens only need to show a COVID-19 negative test result to enter places like cultural institutions, gyms, restaurants, etc., and to travel via domestic flights.
If the French parliament approves the proposal, the vaccine pass could come into effect from Jan. 15. This essentially means that unvaccinated individuals will no longer be able to access these services even if they are not infected.
French President Emmanuel Macron has announced mandatory full vaccination for professional athletes in the country from Jan. 15. Unvaccinated players could be barred from playing. The rule has not gone well with Thomas Tuchel, coach of the Chelsea football team that is due to play against the French side in March.
Though he is fully vaccinated, the Chelsea coach insists that people should have the freedom to decide whether or not to take a vaccine. Tuchel does not plan on asking his players to get inoculated against their wishes.
“You know that it’s causing an issue… But it’s not that we have all unvaccinated infected. We have vaccinated players who are positive. I don’t want to get involved in pointing fingers and starting the hunt for non‑vaccinated people. This is a choice to make. We cannot force people to get vaccinated. I will not change my opinion on that,” Tuchel told the Daily Mail.
From Jan. 3, French citizens who can work remotely would be required to do so. Public gatherings will be restricted to just 2,000 people in case of indoor events or 5,000 in case of outdoor events.
In city centers, wearing masks will be compulsory. Drinking and eating will be banned on long-distance transport. Bars and cafes will be restricted to providing table service alone while nightclubs will shut down until further notice.
The administration has shortened the time period between the second shot of COVID-19 vaccine and booster shot to three months from four.
On Saturday, France saw over 100,000 new infections, the highest number since the pandemic began. On Monday, over 3,300 people were in intensive care units, 10 percent more than the 3,000 level “crisis threshold” set by the country.
On Tuesday, the number of infections crossed 180,000 to set a new record. And on Wednesday, case numbers broke that record to set a new one with 208,000 COVID-19 infections.
“This means that 24 hours a day, day and night, every second in our country, two French people are diagnosed positive for the coronavirus… We have never experienced such a situation,” Health Minister Olivier Veran told The Guardian, referring to the entire situation as “dizzying.”
Veran revealed that the country’s hospitals were already stressed out due to the Delta variant and the Omicron wave will only add to the burden.
Over 75 percent of the French population is vaccinated against COVID-19. More than four million adults are estimated to be unvaccinated.