France's Macron Tries to Slow Delta Variant, Boost Vaccines

France's Macron Tries to Slow Delta Variant, Boost Vaccines

PARIS (AP) -- Is France's summer over already?

Just three days ago, the country threw open its nightclubs for the first time in 16 months, completing a protracted national effort at returning to a pre-pandemic normal just in time for summer vacation. But with the delta variant now driving resurgent infections, potential new restrictions loom.

President Emmanuel Macron is hosting a top-level virus security meeting Monday morning and then giving a televised speech in the evening, the kind of solemn speech he's given at each turning point in France's virus epidemic.

This time, he's expected to announce plans for a law requiring health care workers to get vaccinated, and may require special COVID-19 passes for restaurants or other day-to-day activities.

Other possibilities: A return to limits on the number of people allowed in public venues that just reawakened in May after one of the world's longest shutdowns. Or an announcement that France could start charging money for some virus tests, which up to now have been free for everyone on French territory.

Any new measures are likely to be relatively mild for now, but aimed at reminding the French that the pandemic isn't over yet.

"We have to live with the virus," Europe Minister Clement Beaune said Sunday. "Living with the virus means we don't re-close everything."

The government's main weapon, and main worry, is vaccinations. France has vaccinated 40% of its population and vaccines are widely available for anyone 12 and over. But demand has ebbed in recent weeks -- partly because of hesitancy and also because some people thought they would get their shots when they returned from vacation.

Meanwhile, French restaurants and bars are thriving again, the Tour de France is drawing tightly packed crowds across the country, and Hollywood stars are posing arm-in-arm and mask-free on the red carpet at the Cannes Film Festival. Cheek kisses are making a comeback.

As the La Bellevilloise nightclub reopened Friday in eastern Paris, the owner braced for the possibility that the party could be short-lived. But clubgoers were exhilarated at rediscovering the dance scene.

Parisian Laurent Queige called it "a liberation, an immense happiness." Clubgoer Sophie Anne Descoubès said she was impressed by the rigor of how the club checked her QR code showing she'd been either fully vaccinated or freshly tested, saying, "I don't have any apprehension, just a great joy and the desire to stomp."

France's virus infections started rising again two weeks ago, and health service SOS Medecins has registered a slight rise in demand for emergency virus treatment. The number of people in French hospitals and intensive care units has been declining for weeks, but doctors predict it too will rise in the coming weeks when the increase in delta variant infections hits vulnerable populations, as it has in Britain and Spain.

Meanwhile, Macron is also meeting with car industry figures Monday as he tries to combine his virus warnings with a message of hope for one of the world's biggest economies. New infections are threatening France's all-important tourism industry and Macron's ambitious economic recovery plan, just nine months before the next presidential election.