PARIS: France will order companies to impose at least three work-from-home days a week for employees whenever possible to stem a fifth wave of COVID-19 infections, Prime Minister Jean Castex said Monday.
The new measure, which will be in place for at least three weeks, is one of several announced after a crisis cabinet meeting on the new Omicron variant, which is again threatening to overwhelm hospitals.
The meeting came after France reported Saturday over 100,000 daily Covid cases, a record since the pandemic erupted nearly two years ago, with many experts warning the number would rapidly increase over the coming weeks.
“It all seems like a never-ending movie… but today thanks to our collective mobilization, we are one of the most vaccinated countries in the world,” he said at a press conference in Paris.
The pillar of France’s Covid fight would remain a push for widespread vaccination, he said, which could allow the government to avoid more restrictive measures like curfews or business closures that could pummel the economy.
Castex said the country’s “health pass” for access to restaurants, cinemas and more would now only be available to fully vaccinated people — a recent negative Covid test for the unvaccinated will no longer be valid.
He also said that standing would be prohibited in cafes and bars, where only table seating will be permitted, for three weeks — though he held off on a curfew for New Year’s Eve festivities.
Several French media reports had suggested such a move was under consideration.
Currently 78 percent of the country has had at least one shot, a figure the government says represents 90 percent of those eligible — currently everyone older than five.
Castex also reiterated a call for people to get booster shots, which will now be available just three months after receipt of the initial injections.
– Minister tests positive –
The average number of daily Covid deaths in hospitals has jumped to 162 each day, with the toll in France now 122,642 victims since the start of the pandemic.
And the new measures came as Environment Minister Barbara Pompili announced on Twitter that she had tested positive for Covid after coming down with symptoms, and was self-isolating.
Face masks, already required in most indoor public spaces, could soon be mandatory outdoors on city streets as well, Castex said.
And capacity limits will be reimposed for concerts, sporting matches and other events at 2,000 people indoors, and 5,000 outside — with no standing areas allowed.
No eating or drinking will be authorised in theatres, sporting venues, cinemas or public transport, including long-distance train travel, he added.
But the government held off on postponing a return to class for students on January 3 after the holidays, a measure sought by some 50 doctors and health workers in an open letter published over the weekend.
And in a bid to avoid labour shortages in essential sectors such as education and health care as the number of cases soars, Castex said the government would soon reduce the number of quarantine days required for fully vaccinated people who are exposed to infected individuals.