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French PM Castex announces new steps to slow Omicron, but schools to stay open

FRENCH Prime Minister Jean Castex announced Monday that in response to a rapid spread of the Omicron variant of Covid-19, the government was narrowing the delay for a third booster shot to three months from four, but there would be no curfew for New Year’s Eve.

Castex also said France’s health pass for access to restaurants, cinemas and more would become a “vaccine pass” from January 15, if the draft bill is approved by parliament as expected.

This would mean that “in places where the pass is required, you must prove that you are vaccinated to be able to enter – a negative test result will no longer be accepted”, he said.

Among additional measures, from Monday and for the next three weeks, all public gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people for indoor events and to 5,000 people for outdoor events. Spectators at concerts will all have to be seated.

Consumption of drinks and food will be banned in long-distance transport and cinemas, and home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible.Mask-wearing will be mandatory in town centres, with local authorities in charge of enforcing the measure, and in bars and restaurants only seated customers will be able to consume food and drinks.

New rules for isolation periods after a positive Covid-19 test result or for contact cases will be announced at the end of the week. Castex said these were necessary due to the unique “characteristics of Omicron” compared to other variants.

However, there will be no changes to the school calendar. Students will return to school as previously planned, on January 3.

The new measures come as officials have warned that hospitals in France again risk being overwhelmed after a record 100,000 cases were reported Saturday, the highest daily level in France since the pandemic began nearly two years ago.

Figures from Monday show more than 3,300 people are currently in intensive care, above the crisis threshold of 3,000 set by authorities.

The prime minister said the Covid incidence rate – the number of infections per 100,000 people per week – is now well over 700 and at a record level since the start of the pandemic, forcing his cabinet to take the new measures.

While he appealed for people to get booster shots, he also praised France’s 78 percent vaccination rate overall. The government says this figure represents 90 percent of those eligible – currently everyone older than five.

“I know that it feels like a film without ending, but a year ago we started our vaccination campaign and now we are one of the best vaccinated and best protected people in the world,” he said.

(FRANCE 24 with REUTERS and AFP)

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