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France and Germany bring in extra testing rules at border due to Covid variant fears

France and Germany will this week introduce tighter controls at their shared border, but for the moment the border will remain open despite fears in Germany of the spread of Covid virus variants from France's Moselle département.

France and Germany bring in extra testing rules at border due to Covid variant fears
French and German police will be stepping up border checks. Photo: AFP

German leaders last week raised the possibility of closing the border altogether after a ‘hotspot’ of cases of the South African and Brazilian variants of the virus in the French border area of Moselle.

German chancellor Angela Merkel’s spokesman Steffen Seibert said Germany was “in a situation where we need to do everything to prevent more aggressive mutations of the virus spreading as quickly in Germany as they have elsewhere”.

However the border will remain open, but both French and German authorities have announced extra checks.

On Sunday, February 28th, Germany’s Robert Koch Institute announced that France’s Moselle département had been added to the list of ‘high risk’ areas for virus variants, triggering tougher testing requirements for entry to Germany.

The previous week, a joint press release from France’s health minister Olivier Véran and Europe minister Clément Beaune said: “On both sides of the border, we share the objective of preserving freedom of movement and enabling cross-border workers to continue their professional activity.”

France also tightened entry requirements from Germany, removing exemptions to the testing rule for certain types of travellers.

Although travel between France and Germany is allowed for any reason, entry into France requires a negative Covid test and a declaration of being symptom free. There had been some exemptions on the test requirement, but these have now been limited.

READ ALSO IN DETAIL The rules on entering France from an EU country 

Into France

From Monday, March 1st in order to enter France:

  • Only cross-border workers are be exempt from the testing requirement, everyone else (including people who live within 30km of the border who were previously exempt) must present at the border a negative Covid test taken within the previous 72 hours. Only PCR tests will be accepted.
  • Remote working for cross-border workers is to be reinforced to reduce the number of people travelling
  • Cross-border workers will instead be required to take a weekly Covid test. Only PCR tests will be accepted.

Into Germany

  • From Tuesday, March 2nd a Covid test no older than 48 hours will be required for all entrants into Germany from the Moselle département, with no exemption for cross-border workers. Germany initially specific that the tests must be PCR tests, but after discussions with French authorities clarified that the rapid-result antigen test will also be accepted. It is estimated that there are 16,000 people who cross the border every day from Moselle to work in Germany 
  • All non-German nationals also need to fill in a declaration – either online HERE or on paper – that they are free from symptoms
  • A PCR test no older than 48-hours old is needed to enter Germany from the rest of France. However, exemptions are made in several cases, including for cross-border workers and commuters. 

Both French and German police will be stepping up checks at the border, and the new testing requirements will apply to arrivals by road, rail and air.

The French ministers’ statement added: “These measures complement the arsenal deployed by the authorities in Moselle.

“Testing and screening capacities have been greatly increased (more than 60,000 tests carried out last week) in order to stop the spread of the virus and to identify more effectively the spread of variants. The strategy for identifying contact and isolation cases has also been strengthened (with the national self-isolation period extended from 7 to 10 days) and the accelerated vaccination campaign with 30,000 additional doses allocated to the department.

“Checks on compliance with the rules have been stepped up.”

Both countries will continue to monitor the situation.

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COVID-19

Paxlovid and vaccines: The latest Covid advice from the French government

The French health minister outlined on Friday the government recommendations amid the "tripledemic" of Covid-19, influenza, and bronchiolitis that has hit the country in recent weeks.

Paxlovid and vaccines: The latest Covid advice from the French government

French Health Minister François Braun held a press conference with other public health officials on Friday to provide the public with the government’s latest public health advice.

Earlier in the day, the French health minister said on BFMTV that fourth doses of the Covid-19 vaccine were available to all groups. Previously, only at-risk populations were eligible.

READ MORE: Can anybody in France now get the latest Covid booster vaccine?

Here is what the public health officials said:

The situation

Health Minister Braun began the press conference by reminding the public that France is facing a “triple epidemic,” as the nine Covid-19 wave occurs alongside seasonal illnesses of influenza and bronchiolitis. Specifically, the health minister said that hospital emergency room visits and hospitalisations for the flu had doubled in the last week.

Therefore Braun called for voluntary acts of “solidarity” to prevent a rise in cases and serious infections, particularly of Covid-19, during the end-of-year festivities. 

According to Braun, France counted more than 100,000 new Covid-19 contaminations in recent days, with more than 1,000 patients being treated in critical care services.

Wearing a mask

The public officials reminded the public that wearing a mask is an “act of solidarity.” While the mask is not required, it is highly recommended, particularly in “crowded and enclosed areas,” such as public transportation.

Minister Braun encouraged wearing a mask when travelling to Christmas holiday celebrations this year.

“You do not know if the person next to you is immune-compromised,” said COVARS head Brigitte Autran, recommending that people wear masks while travelling.

Braun also mentioned that in nursing homes and care centres, masks could become required, at the behest of the establishment’s management.

Getting vaccinated against both influenza and Covid-19

The minister of health noted that the level of vaccination in France against influenza was “five percent lower this year” when compared with 2021, making the population more vulnerable. Additionally, the minister expressed concern over the rate of vaccination against Covid-19 (second boosters) in nursing homes and care centres to be “too low,” with rates around “21 and 23 percent for the over 80s.”

Braun reiterated that all groups in France are now eligible for a second booster against Covid-19. The minister said he was “appealing to individual and collective responsibility” in encouraging people to get both the Covid-19 and flu vaccines prior to spending the Christmas holidays with family members.

The minister said that all groups in France should be eligible to receive both vaccines at the same time – one in each arm. 

READ MORE: Flu vaccine opens to all adults in France: What you need to know

Access to Paxlovid

Brigitte Autran said that the treatment drug, Paxlovid, is very effective against the BQ1.1 Covid-19 variant, which is circulating around France currently. She explained that groups at-risk of developping severe forms of Covid-19, or those whose immune systems did not generate responses to the vaccines, would be eligible for prescriptions from their primary care doctors for Paxlovid.

A prescription can be created for a three month period, without the patient needing to be sick with Covid-19 already. Once such a patient tests positive, they can use the existing prescription to access Paxlovid.

Protecting children and babies against bronchiolitis

Romain Basmaci, a pediatrician and professor of medicine, issued several recommendations. He advised that parents wipe down children’s toys and avoid sharing toys between two children. He also recommended that if a parent becomes sick, they should begin wearing a mask and decreasing physical contact with their young child to better protect them.

He added that keeping children’s noses clean and clear is a good practice to protect them while sick, even though there are no specific treatments for bronchiolitis. Additionally, he said that if your child is struggling to eat, smaller quantities rather than full meals may be a helpful way to ensure they remain well-nourished.

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