In another sign of progress in France’s efforts to control its third wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, the French prime minister Jean Castex last Thursday advanced the date on which anyone aged 18 or more in France will be eligible for vaccination against the virus as of May 31st, two weeks ahead of the originally planned date of June 15th. As of today, Sunday, over one third of the French population has been vaccinated at least once. It is planned that this figure will reach 70% by July, a figure that the president of the European Union, Ursula von der Leyen, says is now within reach for the entire European Union.
The prime minister’s announcement came on the heels of the reopening last week of open-air service at eating and drinking establishments throughout France. A full re-opening of its cafés, bars, brasseries, bistros and restaurants, including in-door service without limitations, is now anticipated for the end of June. Simultaneously, museums, theaters, and cinemas re-opened on Wednesday, albeit with limits on the numbers of persons admitted and the application of social distancing measures. Also on Wednesday, the nightly curfew at 7 pm was pushed back to 9 pm, and it is hoped it will soon be moved to 11 pm and dropped altogether by the end of June.
The seven-day moving average of new infections from COVID-19 has dropped well below 14 thousand, and the daily number of ICU bed occupancies has dropped 3544. These figures are a dramatic improvement on the statistics at the start of April, when daily infections were over 50,000 per day and ICU occupancy was close to 7000. Unless new variants upset the equation, of which there has not yet been any sign, France appears to be well on its way to the removal of most of its COVID-19 restrictions by the end of the month of June.
Further evidence of France’s progress with COVID-19 can be seen in the flood of announcements of re-openings in the month of June of countless hotels, not only in Paris but throughout the entire country. To be sure, some French hotels have been functioning for some time now, but many chose not to re-open until all restrictions on travel inside of France were lightened. In the beginning, in March, 2020, we were confined to a radius of one kilometre from our homes, which then recently expanded to 10 kilometres, and, since last week, all confinement restrictions on residents of France were removed, restoring freedom to trips anywhere in France. I personally was even able to visit an ailing friend in Geneva last Thursday, in and out within the day. (I would have faced Swiss quarantine measures had I stayed more than a day.)
Another sign of COVID-19 progress is a decision announced by the European Commission on last Thursday, and approved by European ministers on Friday, whereby agreement was reached by all of the 27 countries that comprise the European union to adopt the use of a digital health certificate to permit holders to circulate freely within the Schengen Agreement countries of Europe without restrictions, without the need to quarantine when crossing borders and without constantly needing to provide proof of testing negative for the virus. The digital document that is being created will be known as a COVID health certificate and it will certify that the holder has been fully vaccinated with EU-approved vaccines (currently Pfizer, Moderna, Johnson & Johnson and Astra Zeneca), as well as recently tested and found to be free of the virus.
This decision was referred to the member countries for implementation, and they have set the date of July 1st for implementation of acceptance of the health certificate. Where does that leave visitors from the English-speaking world, including the United States, who wish to visit France? President Macron of France recently stated that adopting simplified procedures to permit entry to France this summer of travelers from North America is one of his priorities.
According to officials in the French government, they are simultaneously working on a plan to adopt the health certificate as described above to be applied to visitors from countries outside of the European Union that have made progress with their own vaccination programs and in which the virus is under control. This currently applies to visitors from the United Kingdom and the United States. We expect the details of this program will be announced imminently and we believe that will be before mid-June. Needless to say, the anticipated relaxation of COVID-19 related measures depend on the continuation of the recent positive trends. For that to continue, prudent use of masks and social distancing measures are still indicated for everyone.