By Sudip Kar-Gupta and Geert De Clercq
PARIS (Reuters) -France will announce new COVID-19 containment measures on Thursday as infection rates surge nationwide, but does not plan a new lockdown like some other European Union countries.
Government spokesman Gabriel Attal said on Wednesday that the government wants to avoid major curbs on public life, preferring stricter social distancing, speeding up its vaccination booster campaign and tightening rules on using health passes.
“We must protect the French people by building on what we have, to save the end-of-year festivities and get through the winter as well as possible,” Attal told a news conference.
France’s health pass – which allows entry to cafes, restaurants, museums, cinemas and other public places for people who are vaccinated or have a recent negative COVID test – is a key reason why infection rates in France are lower than in neighboring countries, Attal said.
Introduced this summer, the pass led to a spike in new vaccinations and the government could boost its efficiency by increasing control over its use.
Attal declined to specify what measures may be announced on Thursday, but the government is expected to follow health regulator HAS’ advice to extend a third dose of the vaccine to everyone over the age of 40.
So far the third shot is only available for people over 65 and the vulnerable, but from Dec. 1 also for people over 50. The government could also boost home working.
Attal said that despite new measures, the fifth wave of the epidemic was likely to get worse in coming days.
While the government expects to see a significant increase in pressure on hospitals in coming weeks, it does not expect they will be submerged by an influx of patients as vaccination drastically reduces the risk of serious symptoms.
“We no longer see a link, as we saw during the first three waves, between the number of infections and the number of hospitalisations,” he said.
On Tuesday, the seven-day moving average of new cases rose above 20,000 for the first time since Aug. 24 and the number of COVID patients in intensive care rose to 1,455.
For a similar number of new cases in August, the number of people in ICUs stood at 2,200. During the third wave, when average new cases last exceeded 20,000 in early May, the number of COVID patients was over 5,500.
(Reporting by Sudip Kar Gupta and Geert De Clercq;Editing by Benoit Van Overstraeten and Giles Elgood)