Amid Record Infections, France Increases Pressure on Unvaccinated

PARIS – The French government is working hard to step up pressure on unvaccinated people to get vaccinated against the coronavirus, as the country reported 208,000 new cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday, a record fueled by the Omicron variant.

Health Minister Olivier Veran on Wednesday defended the government’s plan to allow only fully vaccinated individuals to have permanent access to places such as restaurants, cinemas, theaters, museums and sports arenas.

The pass will also be required on long-distance trains and on domestic flights.

Veran said in parliamentary hearings that the record number of infections means more than two French people test positive for COVID-19 every second.

Veran estimates that about 10 percent of the French population has had recent contact with a person infected with the virus.

Addressing those who have not been vaccinated, he said: “This time there is very little chance that you will be able to escape (COVID-19): the virus is spreading too quickly.” Veran said that in public hospitals in Paris, 70 percent of people admitted to intensive care units are not vaccinated.

He also advised the most vulnerable people who have not yet been re-vaccinated to “protect themselves in the coming days. Don’t risk it. “

The accelerated introduction of the so-called skipping vaccine is part of a government strategy for vaccination use, not new restrictions, to try to mitigate the impact of the rapidly spreading omicron variant on already overwhelmed hospitals.

France vaccinated 77 percent of its population and is actively vaccinating against omicron. But more than 4 million adults remain unvaccinated, including more than 1 million people over the age of 65.

More than 3,400 COVID-19 patients were admitted to intensive care units on Wednesday, up 10 percent from last week.

The figure represents two-thirds of intensive care beds occupied by people infected with the virus. But that number is lower than during the previous peak in the spring, when about 6,000 COVID-19 patients required intensive care.

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

The law is likely to have a quick vote in parliament, with President Emmanuel Macron’s party having a majority in the National Assembly with the final say.

If approved, its introduction would mean that unvaccinated people can no longer use negative test results to access places where vaccinations are required.

The bill provides for an exemption from the pass – in particular for the use of trains and airplanes – for people in need of family or medical problems, provided they can present a negative test result.

Those who are not vaccinated but have evidence of a recent recovery from COVID-19 will be able to get vaccinated within six months of infection.

On Monday, Prime Minister Jean Castex announced a series of new measures aimed at containing the spread of the virus.

However, the government has not enacted drastic restrictions such as curfews or quarantines, seemingly trying to find a balance between the measures needed to unload hospitals while maintaining the economy.

Starting next week, major events will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors.

Eating and drinking will be prohibited in cinemas, theaters, sports venues and on public transport, including on intercity routes.

Work from home will be compulsory at least three days a week for employees whose work allows them to do so.

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