Omicron Spreading Like ‘Lightning’ In France - PM
By Staff, Agencies
French authorities urged people to get vaccinated against COVID-19 before the holiday festivities as infections surge and the government tries to avoid another lockdown.
“The fifth wave is here and it is here in full force,” French Prime Minister Jean Castex told a news conference on Friday, likening the spread of the highly mutated Omicron variant in Europe to “lightning.”
Castex further said the fast-spreading and highly transmissible variant is expected to dominate infections in France at the start of January.
To curb the spread of the virus during the holidays, the government banned public concerts and fireworks displays at New Year’s celebrations. It also called on people to avoid large gatherings and limit the number of family members congregating at Christmas.
“The fewer you are, the lower the risk,” Castex said.
France has also sharply restricted travel to the country from outside the European Union, including from the United Kingdom, where Omicron has been behind record numbers of coronavirus cases.
Authorities announced limits on reasons for travelling to France from Britain, a negative virus test less than 24 hours old and a mandatory 48-hour isolation upon arrival beginning on Saturday.
On Saturday, French Health Minister Olivier Veran said Omicron is now suspected to be responsible for up to 10 percent of new confirmed COVID-19 cases in the country.
French authorities have also accelerated vaccinations, including a massive push to administer as many booster shoots as possible before families gather for Christmas. Health officials narrowed the gap between the second and third shot to four months from the previous five, Castex said.
The National Velodrome in Paris, the home of France’s track cycling team and now once again the country’s largest vaccination center, was buzzing with people getting jabs before heading home – or doing last-minute shopping – for the holidays.
With a daily average of 50,704 infections over the last week and 60,866 on Thursday alone, people said they are not willing to risk their health and take chances on the safety of their loved ones.
More than 48 million of France’s 67 million people are fully vaccinated and tens of thousands are signing up for first shots or boosters.
To increase pressure on people to get vaccinated, the government will present a bill early next year to change the French health pass into a vaccination pass. That means people will have to be vaccinated in order to enter restaurants or use long-distance public transport.