British holidaymakers will need a Covid pass to visit the Eiffel Tower and other top tourist attractions in France as concern grows over coronavirus variants.
To qualify for the "passe sanitaire" people must show they are fully vaccinated, have a negative virus test or proof they recently recovered from an infection.
The requirement came into effect on Wednesday at cultural and tourist sites, including zoos, libraries, places of worship, sporting and live music events, museums and even fairgrounds, as the government ramps up its campaign against a “stratospheric” rise in delta variant infections and fears over an increase in the beta variant that was originally identified in South Africa.
In comes after the UK government announced travellers returning from France must continue to quarantine from Monday – even if they are double jabbed.
Westminster said this was due to the “persistent presence” of the beta coronavirus variant in France.
Earlier this month, President Emmanuel Macron announced people in France will need to carry a Covid pass to go to a restaurant, shopping centre or get on a train or plane, as he ordered all French health care workers to get vaccinated by September 15.Jab rates had stalled in France - one of Europe's most vaccine hesitant countries - but Mr Macron's televised addressed prompted a huge surge in vaccine bookings - almost one million people in France made appointments for a vaccine in a single day after the president's plea.France’s daily infections dropped sharply in the spring but have shot up again over the past two weeks, and some regions are re-imposing virus restrictions. The government is worried pressure will grow on hospitals again in the coming weeks.
The beta variant is of particular concern, as it may evade vaccines.
What do we know about the beta variant and how concerned should we be?
Do vaccines work against the beta variant?
A scientist who advises the government has warned the beta variant of the coronavirus spreading in France may evade vaccines and said ministers were right to be concerned.
“The Beta variant has remained a threat throughout. It is probably less infectious than the Delta variant that is spreading here in the UK at the moment. Where it has an advantage is that it is able to escape the immune response to a better extent,” Professor John Edmunds said.
The member of the Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies (Sage), added: “As the population here becomes more and more immune, the conditions are right then for the Beta variant to get an advantage, so I can understand the concern.
“Of the variants that are out there and are known about, that one has always been a threat to us. There is some good evidence from South Africa that it can evade the immune response generated by the AstraZeneca vaccine more efficiently.”
Meanwhile, Professor Sir Andrew Pollard, director of the Oxford Vaccine Group, said that while the beta variant can escape vaccine immunity he expects the AstraZeneca jab will still give “very high protection” against hospital admission and death.
He said: “It’s actually quite good at escaping vaccine immunity and so we would expect it to be able to spread in vaccinated populations.
“We know that people who have had RNA vaccines, like the Pfizer vaccine, as well as the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, can become infected with the Beta variant.”
But he added: “There is one really important study, which was conducted in South Africa by Johnson and Johnson, and that showed with a single dose of that vaccine there was 100% protection against hospitalisation and death.
“The RNA vaccine, the Pfizer vaccine, and the Oxford/AstraZeneca vaccine, are given as two doses. The AstraZeneca vaccine is very similar to the Johnson and Johnson one and we would expect from the biology here to have very high protection against hospitalisation and death, and I’m absolutely confident that that will be the case, because that’s how vaccines work.”
Is it normal for viruses to mutate?
Yes. All viruses mutate - some quicker and more efficiently than others.
“SARS-CoV-2, the virus which causes Covid-19 is evolving and mutating all the time, as do all similar viruses," Prof Tom Solomon, the Director of the NIHR Health Protection Research Unit in Emerging and Zoonotic Infections, at the University of Liverpool said.
Many of these mutations will not be significant or causes for concern but some may give the virus an evolutionary advantage which may lead to higher transmission or mean it is more harmful.
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