Nightlife fans across France crowded into clubs last Friday, despite warnings over a looming surge in Covid-19 cases due to the more contagious Delta variant which looks set to become the dominant strain in the country as soon as this weekend.
While offering relief for nightclub owners after nearly 16 months of closures, capacity remains capped at 75 per cent of normal, and proof of vaccination or a recent negative test will be required for entry.
That has made many clubs reluctant to open, since only 21 per cent of people aged 18 to 29 – the key clubbing demographic – have been fully vaccinated with two doses.
Masks are also recommended but not mandatory, and if a steamy recent viral advert is any indication, most patrons won’t want to cover up.
The vaccine campaign poster, released by regional health authorities recently, shows a couple engaging in a passionate French kiss under the caption “Yes, vaccination can have desirable side-effects.”
For Martin Munier, manager and artistic director of the Sacre club in central Paris, the answer was to team up with a neighbouring pharmacy to set up a testing tent right outside.
“It’s a relief to be able to open, even though not fully back at 100 per cent right away,” he said.
In the western city of Nantes, a group that owns four clubs in the city is offering free entry to 18- to 25-year-olds who have had at least one Covid jab.
The majority of clubs will stay shut, however, preferring to collect government aid while awaiting more visibility on how the surge in Delta cases will play out.
President Emmanuel Macron addressed the country in a prime-time TV speech on Monday following a meeting with top ministers involved in the health crisis, his office said, adding to the uncertainty as the summer holidays loom.
French officials on Thursday warned citizens against travel to Spain or Portugal because of a spike in Covid-19 cases, urging people instead to stay home for the holidays.
Health minister Olivier Veran acknowledged that only a third of French nightclubs would reopen “because 70 per cent were unable to apply the strict health protocols.”
“We will remain very vigilant, and obviously if we have to reverse course because things are going badly, we will do what we have to,” he told France Inter radio.
Veran added that as of July 9, Delta cases accounted for nearly 50 per cent of the total, and would soon account for the majority in the country.
His comments came as the government’s virus advisory body of top scientists urged making vaccination mandatory for health workers and retirement home staff, many of whom remain reluctant to get the jab.
It said that at retirement homes just 40 per cent of employees have been vaccinated with at least one dose, compared with 52 per cent for the population overall.
“The pandemic will only be brought under control when 90 to 95 per cent are vaccinated or inoculated,” the scientists said, a figure above the traditional 60 or 65 per cent for so-called “herd immunity” because of the more infectious Covid variants.