By Sudip Kar-Gupta
PARIS (Reuters) -France said on Thursday it would make COVID-19 booster shots available to all adults, toughen rules on wearing face masks and ramp up health pass checks as it seeks to curb a fifth wave of infections that risks undermining its economic recovery.
The number of infections is doubling every 11 days in France but officials said there was no need to follow Austria’s example of reimposing a lockdown.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said anyone aged 18 or over would be eligible for booster shots and that the period between full vaccination and the booster jabs would be shortened to five months from six.
“We still have our fate in our hands,” Veran told a news conference, urging people to respect social distancing rules.
Booster shots are currently available only to over-65s and to those with underlying health issues.
France currently holds about 25 million doses, enough to accelerate the booster campaign, Veran said. Earlier, France’s health regulator, known as the HAS, backed a widening of the campaign.
France reported 33,464 new cases on Thursday, the third time in a row the tally has been above the 30,000 mark, a pattern unseen since late April.
The seven-day moving average of daily new cases – which evens out reporting irregularities – stands at a three-month high of 21,761 and has almost quadrupled in a month.
Veran said he would ask the HAS and medical ethics committee to examine whether children aged 5 to 11 should be vaccinated. Any programme for such children would not begin before 2022.
Earlier, the EU’s drug regulator approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID vaccine for 5 to 11-year-olds as Europe fights a spike in infections.
Booster shots will become a requirement for a valid health pass, which is needed in France to enter restaurants, cafes, cinemas and museums, among other public venues, Veran said. The pass shows proof of full vaccination or a negative COVID test.
After Veran’s announcement, vaccination bookings soared, causing medical appointments app Doctolib to freeze. A Doctolib spokeswoman late on Thursday told Reuters that more than 400 000 new reservations for the jab had been made.
(Reporting by Elizabeth Pineau, Richard Lough, Sudip Kar-Gupta, Benoit Van Overstraeten and Geert De ClercqEditing by Bernadette Baum, Frances Kerry and Gareth Jones)