PARIS — The French government announced new COVID-19 measures on Monday in an effort to curb the spread of the coronavirus, yet stopped short of imposing drastic restrictions before New Year’s Eve.
Starting from next week, big events will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 people outdoors. People will be requested to sit down during concerts and customers won’t be allowed to stand up in bars, French Prime Minister Jean Castex said.
Eating and drinking will be banned in cinemas, theaters, sport facilities and public transportation, including on long-distance routes. Working from home will be mandatory at least three days per week for employees whose job makes it possible, he added.
The new rules will be in place for at least three weeks, he said.
The move comes after France recorded more than 100,000 virus infections in a single day for the first time in the pandemic. President Emmanuel Macron held a special virus videoconference with key government members from his holiday residence at Fort de Bregancon on the French Riviera.
The new measures remain less strict than those put into place last December, when a nightly curfew was imposed across the country.
Castex made basic recommendations for New Year’s Eve, including avoiding big parties and dinners, wearing a mask, ventilating the room and getting a COVID-19 test - all “common-sense actions,” he said.
He confirmed that schools will reopen as scheduled on Jan. 3 and said political rallies won’t be affected by the new rules for democratic reasons before April’s presidential election.
The French government appeared to be trying to strike a balance between measures needed to relieve hospitals and keep the economy running at the same time, as the fast-spreading omicron variant complicates the situation.
“We are in a race against the clock,” Castex said.
More than one in 100 people in the Paris region have tested positive in the past week, according to the regional health service. Most new infections are linked to the omicron variant, which government experts predict will be dominant in France in the coming days.
Macron is also wary of the impact on public opinion of potential harsh measures less than four months before the presidential election, in which he is expected to run.
Castex stressed that hospitals’ intensive care units aren’t saturated because of over 90% of France’s adults being fully vaccinated - in sharp contrast with the situation last year.
The government hopes to speed up the nation’s booster campaign by reducing the delay in getting the shot from four to three months after the previous vaccine shot.
The government on Monday also presented a bill aiming at creating a “vaccine pass,” which will allow only vaccinated people to enter public places, including restaurants, bars and cinemas. The measure will be debated at Parliament next month.
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