France ‘on Covid alert’ amid new lockdown fears – Macron could follow Germany and Austria

Austria: Police patrol shops under new covid guidelines

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Amid a surge of coronavirus cases in parts of the EU, leaders are taking unprecedented steps, with Austria leading the way as it decided to lock down its unvaccinated population. French President Emmanuel Macron, given the “strong increase” in infections in the country, may follow suit.

Nearly 7,000 patients are hospitalised for COVID-19 in France. Seventeen percent – 1,200 – are in intensive care.

In September, around 3,000 health workers in France were suspended because they had not been vaccinated against COVID-19.

Gabriel Attal, French Secretary of State, said: “We must protect the hospital.

“We must not wait for the situation to explode to worry, we must be very careful now and strengthen the barriers.”

He added: “We are in a state of alert, there is an incidence, a number of contaminations that has increased very strongly in the last week, almost 50 percent.”

He continued: “We have reasons to be confident.

“We have a situation that is less deteriorated than that of our neighbours.”

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Yet, he warned “nothing should ever be excluded on principle” during this health crisis, adding: “We are obviously vigilant.”

But Mr Attal said: “There is absolutely no lockdown planned, neither now nor later.”

However, even though France boasts a high vaccination rate, “today there is no reason to think” that end-of-year celebrations could be tarnished as happened in 2020.

He stressed: “It is necessary that the immunity conferred by the vaccine continues.”

It follows last week’s announcement that over-65s in France will have to get their booster jab to be considered fully vaccinated from mid-December.

It means they will be required to have received three vaccinations for their Covid “passports” to be valid for entry to restaurants, museums, and other public places.

Mr Attal said over 50s could face the same conditions “from a certain moment”. It would be a “logic” step, he suggested.

The Secretary of State added: “We have built a wall thanks to the vaccine, we must avoid that it cracks.”

Mr Attal’s comments came on the first day of Austria’s nationwide lockdown for the unvaccinated.

It became the first country to impose such a rule, which was triggered by what Chancellor Alexander Schallenberg described as a “shamefully low” vaccination rate – one of the lowest in Western Europe.

Mr Schallenberg said: “We must raise the vaccination rate.”

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Vienna’s move may have set a precedent for other vaccine-sceptic countries.

Germany has already announced similar restrictions are likely to be implemented soon.

The state of Saxony, where 85 percent of ICU beds are occupied by coronavirus patients, became the latest to introduce so-called 2G rules in all non-essential shops and facilities.

The term 2G refers to the words “geimpft” and “genesen”, which mean vaccinated and recovered.

Only people who can prove they have been vaccinated or have recovered from Covid are allowed entry to public places in the region, and as soon as Friday, unvaccinated people could be limited to meeting just one person from outside their household and barred from non-essential travel.

The measure will come into force automatically as soon as more than 1,300 hospital beds are occupied by coronavirus patients for three consecutive days.

Markus Söder, the regional leader of Bavaria, where proof of vaccination for people to enter restaurants, bars, nightclubs, cinemas and leisure centres is already required, said: “The intensive care units are full of unvaccinated people who could have protected themselves.

“If we had vaccinated faster, like Spain and Portugal, we wouldn’t have this situation in the hospitals.

“Politicians can’t help it if people won’t get vaccinated.”

Austria and, in the coming weeks, Germany are the most extreme examples of separation between those who have accepted and refused the jab.

In Austria, the government is facing backlash. Hundreds of demonstrators gathered in Innsbruck yesterday, and a major protest is on the cards for the weekend in Vienna.

In Germany, the prospect of the lockdown for the unvaccinated is sparking debate too.

Daily Sceptic Editor Toby Young told Express.co.uk: “Given its history, I hoped Germany would be a bit more inhibited about curtailing the rights of a part of its population on the grounds that they’re dangerous and unclean.

“But apparently not.”

France’s Mr Attal, though insisting the government is carefully watching the situation, said: “Is this a track on which we are working, which has been discussed in the Defence Council or in meetings at this stage? No.”

Additional reporting from Maria Ortega

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