France ups pressure on unvaccinated amid record infections

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The French government is stepping up efforts to increase pressure on unvaccinated people to protect themselves from the corona virus

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Health Minister Olivier Veran on Wednesday defended a government plan to allow only fully vaccinated people to enjoy continued access to places such as restaurants, cinemas, theatres, museums and playgrounds. Passes will also be required for long distance trains and domestic flights.

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Veran told a parliamentary hearing that the record number of infections means more than two French people are testing positive for COVID-19 every second. Veran estimated that about 10% of the French population has recently been in contact with a person infected with the virus.

Speaking to non-vaccinated people, he said: “There’s really little chance you can survive (COVID-19) this time around: the virus is spreading very fast.” Veran said that in Paris’ public hospitals, 70% of people hospitalized in intensive care units are not vaccinated.

He also advised the most vulnerable, who have not yet received the vaccine booster shot, to “protect yourself in the days to come. Don’t take the risk.”

The rapid introduction of the so-called Vaccine Pass is part of a government strategy to use vaccination instead of the new lockdown, to try to reduce the impact of the fast-spreading Omicron variant on already overburdened hospitals.

France has vaccinated 77% of its population and is again rolling out booster shots to combat omicrons. But more than 4 million adults remain illiterate, including more than a million people over the age of 65.

More than 3,400 COVID-19 patients were hospitalized in intensive care units on Wednesday, a 10% increase over the past week. This figure represents two-thirds of the ICU beds occupied by people infected with the virus. But the number is lower than the previous peak in the spring, when nearly 6,000 COVID-19 patients needed intensive care.

The government wants the vaccine to be passed by mid-January.

With President Emmanuel Macron’s party holding a majority in the National Assembly, parliament is likely to vote quickly on the bill, which has the final say.

If approved, its introduction would mean that non-vaccinated people would no longer be able to use negative test results to reach places where vaccine passes are required.

The bill provides for the exception of passes – specifically for taking trains and planes – for people with family or health emergencies where they are able to present a negative test.

People who have not been vaccinated but have recent evidence of recovery from COVID-19 will be able to receive a vaccine pass, limited to a period of six months after infection.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jean Casteux announced a number of new measures to curb the spread of the virus. Yet the government balked at imposing harsh restrictions such as curfews or lockdowns, trying to strike a balance between providing relief to hospitals and measures needed to keep the economy running at the same time.

Starting next week, large events will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors. There will be a ban on eating and drinking in theatres, theatres, sports facilities and public transport, including on long-distance routes. Working from home will be mandatory for at least three days per week for employees whose jobs make it possible.

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