France plans tighter social distancing rules, booster ramp-up to fight COVID wave

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PARIS, Nov 24 (Reuters) – The French government will announce new COVID-19 containment measures on Thursday as the infection rate surges nationwide, government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday.

Attal said the government wants to avoid major curbs on public life, preferring to strengthen social distancing rules and speeding up its vaccination booster campaign. The government would also tighten health pass rules, he said.

The epidemic was likely to get worse in coming days, with the incidence rate – the number of infections per week per 100,000 people – set to rise above 200 in the next day or two.

“We must protect the French people by building on what we have, to save the end-of-year festivities and get through the winter as well as possible,” Attal told a press conference.

France’s health pass – which allows entry to cafes, restaurants, museums, cinemas and other public places for people who are vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test – is a key reason why France is doing better than some of its neighbours, President Emmanuel Macron says.

Attal declined to comment on what measures Health Minister Olivier Veran may announce on Thursday, but the government is widely expected to follow the advice of health regulator HAS, which said on Friday that a third dose of the vaccine should be extended to everyone over the age of 40.

“While we see a significant increase in pressure on the hospital system in coming weeks, we think we can avoid being submerged, provided that we continue and increase our vaccination drive, social distancing and our use of the health pass,” Attal added.

So far the third booster shot is only available for people older than 65 and the vulnerable, but from Dec. 1 it will also become available for the 50-64 age group. From Dec. 15, people over 65 will also need to present proof of a COVID-19 booster shot in order for their health passes to remain valid.

(Reporting by Sudip Kar Gupta and Geert De Clercq; Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten)

Photo – A man wearing a protective face mask walks across the Pont Alexandre III bridge, near the Eiffel Tower, in Paris, France. EPA-EFE/IAN LANGSDON

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