French PM announces lifting of Covid restrictions and start date for vaccine pass

French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday a two-step process for the lifting of some of France's remaining Covid restrictions, as well as confirming the start date for when the vaccine pass will come into force.

French prime minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran
French prime minister Jean Castex and health minister Olivier Véran. Photo: Stephane du Sakatin/AFP

The Prime Minister announced that the health pass will become a vaccine pass – denying entry for the unvaccinated to a variety of venues including bars, cafés and leisure centres – on Monday, January 24th.

Read full details HERE on the changes to the vaccine pass.

Also on January 24th, the vaccine booster programme will be opened up to children aged 12-17, although it will not be compulsory for this group to have a booster in order to be considered “fully vaccinated” for the purpose of the vaccine pass.

While cautioning that the health situation in the country remains tense, Castex said that a few more weeks of allowing hospital pressure to reduce, coupled with the effect of the vaccine pass, will allow the government to lift some restrictions.

You can find the detailed calendar of the changes HERE.

The two-step process is as follows:

From February 2nd:

  • Face masks will no longer be required outdoors
  • Limits on gatherings – currently set at 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors will end
  • Working from home for three days a week will no longer be compulsory, although it remains recommended for those who can

From February 16th:

  • Customers in venues including cinemas and sports grounds as well as passengers on trains will again to allowed to consume food and drinks
  • Bars will be permitted to offer standing service, as well as table service
  • Nightclubs which have been closed since early December can reopen

Others restrictions will remain in place, including the requirement for masks in indoor public areas.

The PM added that he hoped some rules could also be relaxed in schools on their return after the February holidays including mask rules, but added that this was still the subject of consultation.

French MPs last week passed the bill that allows the health pass to be converted into a vaccine pass – meaning that proof of vaccination will be required to enter a range of venues including sports grounds, gyms, leisure centres, bars, cafés, restaurants, tourist sites, cinemas, theatres and long-distance public transport.

An exact date for its start had not previously been confirmed.

Castex added that the vaccine pass will require either proof of complete vaccination (including booster shots for those eligible), proof of recent recovery from Covid or a certificate stating that a person cannot be vaccinated for medical reasons – these are issued by the state health system. 

There are some exemptions to this requirement, where a negative Covid test will be accepted instead, including children aged 12 to 16 and people needing entry to medical establishments as visitors or for non-urgent medical treatment.

Case numbers in France remain extremely high, with more than 400,000 new cases announced on each of the last three days.

However the case numbers don’t seem to be translating into exceptionally high numbers of patients in hospitals and intensive care units, although these numbers are rising and hospitals are under pressure.

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Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

The final composition of the new French government was announced on Friday. A new investigation suggests that historic rape allegations against a newly appointed minister were ignored.

Newly appointed French Minister faces rape allegations

It didn’t take long for scandal to hit the France’s new government.

An investigation by Mediapart published the day after the final list of ministerial positions was announced revealed that two women have accused one of the appointees of rape. 

READ MORE Who’s who in France’s new government?

Damien Abad, the new Solidarity Minister denies the allegations and a police investigation into one allegation was dropped in 2017. But another could be about to open. 

Who is Damien Abad? 

Damien Abad is a 42-year-old son of a miner from Nimes in southern France who became the first handicapped MP to be elected in 2012. He has arthrogryposis, a rare condition that affects the joints.

Prior to his appointment as the Minister for Solidarity, Autonomy and Disabled People, he was the leader of the France’s right-wing Republicans party in the Assemblée nationale

What are the allegations? 

Two alleged victims, who didn’t know each other, told Mediapart that Abad raped them on separate occasions in 2010 and 2011.

The first woman described meeting Abad for dinner after having met him weeks earlier at a wedding. She said she blacked out after one glass of champagne and woke up in her underwear in a hotel bed with Abad the next morning fearing she had been drugged. 

A second woman who lodged a formal charge against Abad in 2017 said that he harassed her by text message for years. She eventually agreed to meet with him one evening. After initially consenting, she told him to stop – but her plea fell on deaf ears as Abad raped her. 

What does Abad have to say? 

The new minister denies the accusations.

“It is physically impossible for me to commit the acts described,” he told Mediapart – in reference to his disability. 

He admitted to sending “sometimes intimate” messages, but said he had “obviously never drugged anyone”. 

“I was able to have adventures, I stand by my claim that they were always consensual.”

Is he under investigation? 

The second alleged victim made a formal allegation against Abad in 2017. 

A subsequent investigation was dropped later that year after a “lack of sufficient evidence was gathered”.

Mediapart report that Abad’s entourage were not questioned by police and that the MP told investigators that he had no memory of the alleged crime. 

The first alleged victim flagged the abuse to the Observatory of Sexist and Sexual Violence in Politics – an unofficial watchdog monitoring elected bodies – earlier this month. 

The Observatory has since brought the case to the state prosecutor, but it is unclear if another investigation will be launched.  

Who knew? 

The tone deaf appointment of Gérald Darmanin as Interior Minister in 2020 was controversial because at the time he was under investigation for rape. His nomination was met with street protests in Paris and elsewhere. Feminists accused (and continue to accuse) Emmanuel Macron of not taking sexual violence seriously. 

The investigation into Darmanin’s alleged crime has since been dropped.

Some will question whether the naming of Abad shows that lessons have not been learned. 

“Once again a minister  in the government of Emmanuel Macron accused of rape,” said Caroline De Haas, the founder of the #NousToutes feminist movement. 

The Observatory sent a message warning senior party figures in the Republicans and LREM about the allegations on Monday – prior to Abad’s nomination. 

France’s new Prime Minister Élisabeth Borne denied having any knowledge of the warning. 

“I am going to be very clear on all these questions of harassment and sexual violence, there will be no impunity,” she said during a visit to Calvados. 

“If there are new elements, if the courts are summoned, we will accept the consequences.” 

READ MORE Who is Élisabeth Borne, France’s new PM?

The Observatory meanwhile claims it has been ignored. 

“Despite our alerts, Damien Abad who is accused of rape has been named in government. Thoughts and support to the victims,” it tweeted