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France Grapples With How to Counter Omicron Surge: ‘We Don’t Have a Second to Lose’

· Though most people infected in France have the Delta strain, Omicron accounts for more than one in three new cases in the Paris region, 
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Faced with a steep rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks, France is trying to figure out how to contain the surge driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and fast-spreading Omicron variant.

Though most people infected in France have the Delta strain, Omicron accounts for more than one in three new cases in the Paris region, French government spokesman Gabriel Attal said.

“We don’t have a second to lose,” he told reporters. “The situation in the hospitals is tense.”

About 16,000 people are hospitalized with COVID-19 in France, while the state health agency said that 60 percent of intensive care unit beds in the country are taken up by people infected with coronavirus. Additionally, documented weekly virus infections in France have reached their highest level since the onset of the pandemic.

To address the surge, France’s government is trying to pass a law that would require people to be vaccinated in order to enter restaurants and other public venues. Leaders are also warning that France could see other tough restrictions imposed unless the rise in new cases doesn’t begin to slow.

Paris announced over the weekend that its traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks display was canceled amid fears over the potential impacts of Omicron, France 24 reported. It remains unclear how dangerous and transmissible the highly mutated variant is, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday that it had become dominant over Delta in America.

Faced with a steep rise in COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations in recent weeks, France is trying to figure out how to contain the surge driven by the highly contagious Delta variant and fast-spreading Omicron variant. Above, people wearing face masks to protect against COVID-19 walk past the Eiffel Tower in Paris on December 21, 2021. Michel Euler/AP Photo

The French government on Tuesday dropped efforts to require a health pass for all workplaces, however, amid opposition from unions and employers..

Prime Minister Jean Castex spent the day meeting with mayors and lawmakers to persuade them to support tougher vaccine rules.

French travelers and families, meanwhile, were flocking to virus testing tents ahead of the holidays.

The French government wants a law passed by January 15 requiring vaccination to enter restaurants and many public venues, he said.

Currently a “health pass” is required to enter all such spaces in France, but people can get the pass with either a vaccination certificate, a negative virus test or proof of recent recovery from COVID-19.

France also is ramping up vaccination and booster efforts, with doses made available to all children 5 to 11 starting Wednesday. More than 89 percent of French people 12 and over have had at least two vaccine shots, and about 40 percent of adults have had three doses, Attal said.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

Nations across Europe have moved to reimpose tougher measures to stem a new wave of COVID-19 infections spurred by the highly transmissible Omicron variant. Above, a medical technician administers nasal swabs at a mobile testing site begin a plastic window on the Champs Elysees in Paris on December 21, 2021. Michel Euler/AP Photo

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