France announces lifting of vaccine pass and face mask mandate

France announces lifting of vaccine pass and face mask mandate
Protests in France. Credit: Belga

France will be lifting various tough restrictions put in place to combat the coronavirus crisis from 14 March, when it will be suspending the use of the vaccination pass and the obligation to wear a face mask.

Both measures will be suspended everywhere where they were applied, including in restaurants and bars. For face masks, this includes in classrooms, French Prime Minister Jean Castex announced on Thursday.

"We are entering a new phase of relief when it comes to measures," he said during a television interview with French broadcaster TF1.

The French government has been slowly lifting various measures in the previous weeks. On 28 February, the face mask mandate was lifted in indoor areas where the "pass vaccinal" was in place, while nightclubs, closed since  10 December, reopened on 16 February.

The country's fifth wave has been waning for several weeks after it peaked at the end of January. The weekly average of new infections now stands at just under 58,000, down from 70,000 just one week ago. Meanwhile, the situation in the hospitals is also improving.

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Castex stressed that the "pass sanitaire" will remain in place in health care establishments such as hospitals, as well as in residential care homes, among others, and that mandatory vaccination will remain in place for health care workers. The face mask mandate will remain in place on public transport as well as in health care institutions.

Belgium's Consultative Committee will be meeting on Friday (tomorrow) to discuss the epidemiological situation in the country, including issuing 'code yellow' on the coronavirus barometer, which would see nearly all measures being lifted.

Although the situation in hospitals is improving here too, the number of Covid-19 hospitalisations must drop below 65, which is one of the two requirements to allow for relaxation. Thursday's update of the figures showed an average of 134.1 patients suffering from Covid-19 are still admitted to hospitals each day.

Public outrage with strict measures

France introduced the "pass vaccinal" at the end of January this year, meaning anyone aged over 16 who was not vaccinated was denied access to many areas of public life, including bars and restaurants, all leisure activities (including cinemas and museums), and shopping centres, among others.

In response to this far-reaching measure, which goes further than Belgium's Covid Safe Ticket (CST) as it does not recognise a negative Covid-19 test as legitimate proof to get a pass, the country saw numerous demonstrations in the weeks following its introduction.

People took to the streets of various cities across France, including in Paris, Aix-en-Provence, Montpellier, Marseille and Bordeaux, calling for “freedom” and criticising the so-called “apartheid” between vaccinated and non-vaccinated people.

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