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France sets stricter COVID-19 rules, UK holds fire

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France on Monday mapped out a series of harder measures to try to stem the spread of the Omicron variant of coronavirus from the new year, while Britain held back from announcing any new restrictions.

French Prime Minister Jean Castex told a press conference that home working would be “mandatory” from early January and that large gatherings would be restricted.

The government made a legislative proposal which will, from January 15, limit access to places such as bars, restaurants and trains for unvaccinated people. This is a marked toughening of the current rules, under which unvaccinated people can show a negative PCR or antigen test to gain admission.

The French aim is to push people to get jabbed. Not being vaccinated “is a deliberate act of endangering others, no personal conviction can justify this,” Castex said, adding that he wanted the authorities to “penalize more severely” those using fake COVID-19 passes.

More than 500,000 people signed a petition ahead of Monday’s cabinet meeting protesting against this government’s proposal to harden the rules for the COVID-19 pass.

Castex also said that “from tomorrow morning, following the recommendation of the National Authority for Health, you will only need to wait three months before getting a booster shot.”

In contrast to the French position, U.K. Health Minister Sajid Javid urged caution but ruled out announcing more measures until 2022. “When we get into the new year, of course we will see then whether we do need to take any further measures but nothing more until then at least,” he said in remarks carried by British broadcasters.

In France, the government decided that from next Monday large gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people indoors and 5,000 outdoors, and that concerts where people are standing up will be banned in an attempt to slow the spread of COVID-19 infections, which have surged in the past weeks.

Castex added that the consumption of food and drinks in sporting and cultural venues, like cinemas, will be prohibited; and will only be possible in bars and restaurants if people remain seated.

From January 3, “and for a period of three weeks,” working from home will be made mandatory, Castex said, adding that that meant “a minimum of three days or four days, if possible.”

The government also proposed reinstating wearing masks outdoors in city centers. However, it did not put in place a curfew for New Year’s Eve nor did it postpone the return to school, which is scheduled on January 3.

The Omicron variant “will lead us to adjust the rules on the duration of the quarantine,” Castex said, adding that those rule revisions will be announced on Friday.

The number of positive COVID-19 cases has never been so high in France since the start of the pandemic last year, reaching 1,037 new cases per million on Sunday. A total of 72.7 percent of the French population is fully vaccinated, as of December 23.

The draft legislation setting the new rules, which is subject to change, will be discussed by France’s lower parliamentary chamber — the National Assembly — next week and is expected to enter into force on January 15.

This article is part of POLITICO’s premium policy service: Pro Health Care. From drug pricing, EMA, vaccines, pharma and more, our specialized journalists keep you on top of the topics driving the health care policy agenda. Email [email protected] for a complimentary trial.

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