France is set to make COVID-19 vaccination mandatory for health workers, BFM TV reported on Monday, in a U-turn meant to help slow the spread of the highly contagious Delta variant.
France has an entrenched anti-vaccination movement but authorities had so far banked on convincing enough people, including medical staff, to voluntarily get inoculated and curb the spread of the virus.
However, a slowdown in vaccination rates and a sharp upturn in new infections due to the now-dominant Delta variant have forced a government rethink for health workers.
Vaccination would remain voluntary for the general public, although it could also be made compulsory for other frontline workers including fire fighters, BFM said ahead of a televised speech to the nation by President Emmanuel Macron.
BFM TV also reported Macron would say a health pass required to attend large-scale events or to go clubbing will be required much more widely, including for restaurants, cinemas and theaters but also in trains and planes from the start of August, giving further incentive for people to get the shot.
The health pass provides proof that a person has either been vaccinated against the coronavirus or holds a recent negative PCR test.
There was no immediate official confirmation ahead of Macron’s speech. Macron is due to speak at 8 p.m. local time (1800 GMT).
France has gone from an average of more than 400,000 first injections per day at the end of May to about 165,000 per day now. Some 53.1% of the French have gotten one jab and 40.6% are fully vaccinated – not enough to stop the virus’ spread.
Mandatory vaccination, even restricted only to health care workers and other professionals who come into contact with people vulnerable to COVID-19, is not widespread in Europe, and Macron had previously ruled it out for France.
Italy, which has been particularly hard hit by the pandemic and made the shots mandatory for healthcare workers at the end of March, had so far been the exception. But Greece made a similar announcement on Monday, saying health care workers and nursing home staff will have to be vaccinated.
The fast-spreading Delta variant risks undermining economic recoveries if allowed to spiral out of control, forcing some governments to rethink their COVID-19 strategies just as citizens look forward to summer breaks.
The Dutch government reimposed curbs on nightclubs, music festivals and restaurants on Friday while Spain’s Canary Islands have asked the government to bring back curfews.
England, however, is loosening restrictions and will be the first nation in Britain to lift the legal requirement to wear masks and for people to socially distance from July 19.
After falling from more than 42,000 per day mid-April to less than 2,000 per day in late June, the average number of new infections per day in France has crept back up again since late June, standing now at nearly 4,000 per day.
If no measures were taken and the same trend continued, France could see up to 20,000 new cases per day by the end of July, epidemiologists say.
France’s National Medicine Academy, a doctors’ society, has recently pressed authorities to go further and make vaccination compulsory for everyone aged 12 and above.
(Reporting by GV De Clercq and Ingrid Melander; Additional reporting by Michel Rose, Crispian Balmer, Emilio Parodi, John Miller; Writing by Ingrid Melander; Editing by Richard Lough and Catherine Evans)