By Sudip Kar-Gupta
PARIS -France said on Thursday it would make COVID-19 booster shots available to all adults, toughen rules on wearing face masks and ramp-up health pass checks as it seeks to curb a fifth wave of infections that risks undermining its economic recovery.
The number of infections is doubling every 11 days in France but officials said there was no need to follow European countries such as Austria that have reimposed lockdowns.
Health Minister Olivier Veran said anyone aged 18 or over would be eligible for booster jabs and that the period between full vaccination and the booster shots would be shortened to five months instead of six.
Speaking at a news conference, Veran said France currently held about 25 million vaccine doses, enough to accelerate the booster campaign. Booster shots are currently available only to over-65s and to those with underlying health issues.
Earlier, the Haute Autorite de Sante (HAS) health regulator gave its backing to a widening of the booster campaign.
“We still have our fate in our hands,” Veran said, urging people to exercise prudence and respect social distancing rules.
France reported over 30,000 new infections for a second day in a row on Wednesday, a sequence unseen since end-April.
The seven-day moving average of daily new cases – which evens out reporting irregularities – stands at a three-month high of 21,761 and has almost quadrupled in a month.
Veran also said he would ask the HAS and medical ethics committee to examine whether children aged 5 to 11 should be able to get vaccinated. Any vaccination programme for young children would not begin before 2022, Veran added.
Earlier on Thursday, the EU’s drug regulator approved the use of Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID vaccine for 5 – 11-year-olds, paving the way for them to be given a first shot as Europe fights a spike in infections.
Booster shots will become a requirement for a valid health pass, which is required in France to enter restaurants, cafes, cinemas and museums, among other public venues, Veran said.
Putting more pressure on people not yet vaccinated, Veran said PCR tests would only be valid for one day – instead of 72 hours currently. A health pass shows proof of full vaccination or of a negative COVID test.