Health Minister says France has upper hand as Europe battles fifth Covid-19 wave

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France is “clearly” feeling the onset of a fifth coronavirus wave, Health Minister Olivier Véran warned in a message that came a day after President Emmanuel Macron said people over 65 would need booster shots to maintain their health pass privileges. Patting the government on the back for the way it's handled the outbreak, however, Véran also said France was faring better than its neighbours.

Véran told TF1 television late Wednesday the health situation was deteriorating in 91 departments across France, urging vigilance as the cooler months bring an uptick in infections across Europe.

"The circulation of the virus has accelerated by 40 percent in the space of a week," he said, while optimistically adding that France had an advantage thanks to strict rules that have been increasingly enforced in recent months.

“But we can get through this wave as we did the fourth … The big difference is that we are massively vaccinated, we have the health pass and we continue to enforce and respect barrier measures.”

Macron’s strategy of using health pass rules to stir up demand for Covid vaccinations succeeded after a record 149,000 people booked appointments for booster shots following his speech on Tuesday.

From 15th of December people aged 65 and over will be required to have booster injections if they want to continue using their vaccine passes allowing them access to restaurants, public and cultural venues and intercity train travel.

People aged 50 and over may also request a top up vaccine dose, without it being mandatory for the Covid health pass.

Europe struggling

Much of Europe is experiencing a surge in infections, with countries with higher vaccination rates – such as France and Spain – faring better than the United Kingdom, Germany, Austria and Belgium.

The UK has chosen not to reintroduce restrictions, such as indoor masks or vaccine passports, despite facing some of the highest infection rates in the world – averaging more than 150 deaths per day.

Britain’s vaccination program got off to a speedy start, with nearly 80 percent of residents aged over 12 fully vaccinated, but experts say those people are now suffering a drop in immunity to the virus.

Massive use of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, which is less effective than its competitors, is also said to be a contributing factor.

Meanwhile in Berlin state, unvaccinated people are to be banned from accessing restaurants without terraces, bars, gyms and hairdressing salons amid increasing pressure on intensive care units.

The measures are among the toughest taken in Germany, which has repeatedly broken its record for new daily coronavirus infections in recent days.

Figures show Germany has recorded more than 50,000 new cases in the last 24 hours, an all-time record attributed to the relatively low vaccination rate of 67 percent.

An explosion of cases in Belgium – which has an average of 8,000 new infections per day – has seen the virus circulate to its highest levels in a year, also putting pressure on hospitals.

Austria, the least vaccinated country in western Europe, will impose restrictions from Monday – with only vaccinated people allowed to enter restaurants, hotels and cultural venues.

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