Coronavirus: France to relax restrictions as fifth wave shows signs of waning

Work from home and mask-wearing rules to end next month

A woman wearing a face mask walks past a sign asking for a vaccine pass outside a restaurant in Nice, France. Reuters

France has become the latest European country to announce a relaxation of pandemic restrictions as the continent's Omicron wave shows signs of easing.

Prime minister Jean Castex said on Thursday work from home rules would be eased and that the cap on people allowed into sports and entertainment venues would end on February 8. Masks will also no longer be required outdoors from that date.

People will also again, from February 16, be allowed to eat popcorn in cinemas. Covid-19 protocols in schools, which among other things require children to wear masks in class, could be relaxed after the winter holidays.

However a vaccine pass, which requires a certificate of vaccination to enter public venues like restaurants, cafes, cinemas and long-distance trains, will come into force as planned, Mr Castex said, from January 24.

France reported over 425,000 coronavirus infections on Thursday. But the number of patients in intensive care has stabilised, leaving the government some room for manoeuvre.

And the government's science advisory body said the fifth wave of the coronavirus pandemic would remain at a high but manageable level of infections until mid-March.

Ireland has also announced the end to one of the continent's toughest set of Covid-19 measures. Ministers are due to meet on Friday to agree on a timetable after being given the all clear by public health officials.

Ireland had the second highest incidence rate of Covid-19 in Europe last week but also one of the continent's highest uptakes of booster vaccines, which has helped keep the number of seriously ill people well below the previous peak.

An 8pm curfew on the hospitality sector could be lifted as soon as this weekend, alongside the ditching of vaccine passes, with capacity in indoor and outdoor venues set to return to full capacity, including for next month's Six Nations rugby championship, local media reported.

However, some countries on the continent are still experiencing a significant number of coronavirus cases, despite the move to ease curbs elsewhere.

German reported 140,000 of cases on Friday, with warnings from public health officials that cases could triple by the middle of February. Poland also reported a pandemic-high of 36,000 cases on Friday, with estimates that the Omicron wave could reach from 60,000 to as many as 140,000 daily cases.

Russia has also seen an extremely sharp rise in Covid cases and set a record of 49,513 on Friday, surpassing the previous peak of just over 40,000 cases in November.

Britain must learn to live with Covid-19 as it may be with us forever, Health Secretary Sajid Javid said on Thursday, adding that Britain was moving ahead of other countries as the government lifted coronavirus measures.

“We need to learn to live with it. Sadly people die of flu as well: in a bad flu year you can sadly lose about 20,000 lives, but we don't shut down our entire country,” Javid told Sky News.

“Covid is not going away. It's going to be with us for many, many years, perhaps forever, and we have to learn to live with it … I think we are leading Europe in the transition from pandemic to endemic and we're leading the way in showing the world how you can live with Covid.”

Updated: January 21, 2022, 1:49 PM