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HEALTH

French hospitals ‘under pressure from Covid until March’ warn scientists

France's Covid-19 Scientific Council warned on Thursday that hospitals would remain under pressure until mid-March at the earliest as school class closures topped 18,000.

A French health worker performs an antigen test.
A French health worker performs an antigen test. As the government plans on relaxing Covid restrictions, scientists are concerned. (Photo by Philippe LOPEZ / AFP)

The French Prime Minister, Jean Castex, laid out a timeline for the easing of Covid rules on Thursday evening.

The earliest changes come on February 2nd, when face masks will no longer be required outdoors, venue capacity limits will be scrapped and working from home three days per week will no longer be compulsory. 

READ MORE Calendar: When is France lifting Covid restrictions?

On the same day that Castex made his announcements, France’s Scientific Council on Covid-19, an independent body that advises the government warned that the fifth wave has the potential to cause problems in the national health system until mid-March at the earliest.

“The health system will remain under very high pressure for many weeks, in particular in the south of France,” wrote the Council in a report updated on Thursday

It warned of the potential ill-effects of delayed surgeries and other treatments because of beds occupied by Covid patients. 

The continued functioning of the health system in France is dependent, according the the Council, on “the reduction of social contact and the continued practice of barrier gestures in the coming weeks.”

READ MORE ANALYSIS: How dangerous are France’s sky-high Covid rates?

The Council estimates that between 9-14 million people in France have been infected with Omicron. It said that continued high infection rates could be linked to the reopening of schools after the Christmas holidays and urged for the current testing regime to be maintained. 

On Thursday the government expanded the number of professionals authorised to carry out Covid tests to include: speech therapists, chiropodists, orthoptists, medical physicists, occupational therapists, audioprosthesists, veterinarians and a host of others.

Covid case numbers in France remain exceptionally high, with more than 400,000 new daily cases recorded in the three days leading up to the government’s announcements on Thursday evening. On Monday alone some 525,000 positive cases were reported.

On Friday morning 18,786 classes in schools remained closed due to Covid-19 – a new record representing some 3.56 percent of all classes in France 

The conversion of the health pass into a vaccine pass on January 24th will mean that negative Covid tests will no longer be sufficient for people who want to access venues currently subject to the health pass.

READ ALSO What changes when France’s health pass becomes a vaccine pass?

The government hopes the move will drive up vaccination rates further and add some level of protection against falling seriously ill with Covid. 

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COVID-19

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

In France, masks will no longer be required on indoor transport as of Monday, May 16th. Here are rules and recommendations that are still in place:

Where in France do you still need a face mask?

Members of the public in France have been asked to wear face masks for the most part of two years, at times even outside in the street.

Since March 14th, 2022, the facial coverings have no longer been mandatory in most establishments such as shops, and as of Monday, May 16th, it will no longer be mandatory on indoor public transport. 

As of May 16th, you will therefore no longer be required to wear a mask in the following transports:

  • Buses and coaches
  • Subways and streetcars
  • RER and TER
  • TGV and interregional lines
  • Taxis

Regarding airplanes whether or not you must wear a mask is a bit more complicated.

On Wednesday, May 11th, the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) announced that from May 16th onward it would no longer be required to wear a mask in airports and on board aircraft in the European Union. However, Germany has stated that it does not have the intention of lifting its requirement of wearing a mask on its airlines – this would include the Lufthansa airline. Thus, it will be necessary for passengers to still very to rules each airline has in place, which could be the case when travelling to a country that still has indoor mask requirements in place.

EASA Executive Director Patrick Ky specified that vulnerable people should continue to wear masks, and that “a passenger who is coughing and sneezing should strongly consider wearing a face mask, to reassure those seated nearby.”

Masks still obligatory in medical settings

However, it will still be mandatory for caregivers, patients and visitors in health care facilities, specifically including hospitals, pharmacies, medical laboratories, retirement homes, and establishments for the disabled. 

For people who are vulnerable either due to their age or their status as immunocompromised, wearing a mask will continue to be recommended, though not required, particularly for enclosed spaces and in large gatherings.

Masks are also still recommended for people who test positive, people who might have come in contact with Covid-19, symptomatic people and healthcare professionals.

Will masks come back?

It is possible. French Health Minister Olivier Véran does not exclude the return of mandatory mask-wearing, should the health situation require it.

What are the other Covid-19 restrictions that remain in place?

The primary restriction that has not changed is the French government’s regulation for testing positive: If you are unvaccinated and test positive, isolation is still required for 10 days, if you are vaccinated, this requirement is seven days. Isolation can be reduced from 10 to 7 days or from 7 to 5 days if a negative covid test is performed, and symptoms are no longer present.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: What Covid restrictions remain in place in France?

The French Health Ministry still recommends following sanitary measures such as: wearing a mask in places where it is still mandatory, hand washing, regular ventilation of rooms, coughing or sneezing into your elbow, and using a single-use handkerchief (tissue).

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