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Prime Minister Jean Castex said the coronavirus incidence rate – the number of infections per 100,000 people per week – is now well over 700 and at a record level since the start of the pandemic, forcing his cabinet to take new measures.
From Monday and for the next three weeks, all public gatherings will be limited to 2,000 people for indoor events, and to 5,000 people for outdoor events, and all spectators will have to be seated at concerts.
Consumption of food and drink will be banned in public passenger transport – including long-distance transport – as well as in movie theatres, while in bars and restaurants all food and drink will have to be consumed seated, not standing.
Masks are already required for passengers on public transport.
Mr Castex also said that home working will become mandatory for at least three days per week where possible, and that mask wearing will become mandatory again outdoors in city centres, under the authority of local prefectures.
France news: Emmanuel Macron sparked fury with new Covid rules
Mr Castex told a news conference following a cabinet meeting: “I know that it feels like a film without ending, but a year ago we started our vaccination campaign and now we are one of the best vaccinated and best protected people in the world.”
In order to further boost vaccinations, the government’s planned vaccine pass – which will require proof of vaccination, not just a negative test, to enter public places – will take effect from January 15, if parliament approves a draft government bill, Mr Castex said.
The government is also narrowing the period until people are eligible for a booster shot to three months from four following their second jab.
The move sparked the fury of National Rally leader Marine Le Pen, who said: “Emmanuel Macron and the government have consistently and knowingly lied to impose their losing strategy of vaccines. As the vaccine does not prevent the virus from being contracted or transmitted, I call for the end of the health/vaccine pass.
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“The French, especially the young and the elderly, have been deceived. They were promised a return to normal life with the vaccine. Now they are living under the permanent threat of new restrictions. It is time to commit to a return to normal life.
“By multiplying punitive measures that make no sense, the government is agitating instead of acting. How can we accept such ridiculous measures as the ban on dancing, drinking while standing up, eating on a train or the obligation to wear a mask in the street?
“Instead of restricting freedoms, let’s take common sense measures: recall suspended caregivers, reopen hospital beds closed in the middle of the crisis, give doctors the freedom to prescribe and above all… recover the public hospital that has been ransacked for years.”
Echoing Le Pen’s criticism, Joffrey Bollee, MP for Les Patriotes added: “Castex’s announcements confirm the return of the most stupid measures: outdoor masks, seated consumption in bars, ban on eating at the cinema… all in places already subject to the pass and soon to be reserved for vaccinated people only. Coronamadness!”
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France PM Jean Castex announced the new Covid rules
MEP Gilbert Collard urged French people to stop believing in the government.
He said: “Under the pretext of fighting the pandemic, our freedoms are being undermined. When we start to reduce freedom, we don’t know how far it can go.
“After Castex said: ‘With two doses, there is no chance of catching the disease’; after such patented b**t, if you continue to believe them, you are more manipulable than a lab animal!”
MEP Jerome Riviere, also from the National Rally, blasted: “COVID-19 is circulating. It is not massively deadly. The difficulties encountered in France come from the abandonment of the public hospital. We must put an end to unnecessary restrictions and regain freedom and reason.”
Julien Odoul, National Rally MP said Mr Castex was blaming the unvaccinated at all costs.
He wrote: “Castex wants to put the burden on the non-vaccinated as much as possible. When will the non-vaccinated lose their French nationality? That would be less perverse and more assertive. Macron’s government is making the French people pay for its failures and denials as they refuse this policy of permanent control.”
And Nicolas Dupont-Aignan, MP and presidential candidate for Debout La France, accused the government of “propaganda” and “manipulation”.
He said: “Dangerous! The Vaccine Pass not only destroys the freedom of the non-vaccinated, but also that of the vaccinated. It puts the vaccinated on a leash and forces them to undergo successive experimental injections.
“Propaganda, manipulation, lies. Enough! The Vaccine Pass will not help us in terms of health. It will destroy our FREEDOMS. Every 3 months an experimental injection! Madness… But no announcement on early care or hospital resources.”
On Saturday, France registered a new record of more than 100,000 new infections per day as people rushed to get tested before Christmas family gatherings.
On Monday, the seven-day moving average of new infections stood at more than 72,000.
Additional reporting by Maria Ortega