Several Covid restrictions have been eased in France on hopes recent falls in daily cases will soon alleviate pressure in hospitals. Despite experts being divided over the decision, President Emmanuel Macron is confident widespread vaccinations will curb the pandemic.

Vaccination proof is now required for the health pass to access venues such as bars, restaurants and cinemas, and to use long-distance public transport. Over 90% of adults throughout the country have now been vaccinated, and in order to keep the new health pass, booster shots or proof of recovery is required.

As from Wednesday, wearing face coverings outdoors is no longer compulsory, and capacity limits for sports events, theatres and concerts have been lifted. In addition, people are no longer required to work from home – despite it being advised. Additional easing of restrictions is set for 16th February, which will see nightclubs reopen.

French authorities view the Omicron variant as less of a threat than previous Covid strains: "We have seen a weak reversal of the trend over the past few days, with fewer cases declared each day than seven days earlier," government spokesperson Gabriel Attal told France Info radio.

Latest figures show an average of 322,256 cases were recorded over the past week, less than the 366,179 the week before.

Attal said this is a "very encouraging signal" but added officials "remain cautious" due to a "very contagious" sub-variant of Omicron. There remain around 3,750 people in intensive care in France, exceeding the government’s target of 3,000.

"We've clearly passed the peak, we hope the decline will be quick. But we're coming from stratospheric levels, so this wave is still far from over," according to epidemiologist Mahmoud Zureik.

At the time of writing, there have been 19,872,989 Covid cases in France and 131,588 fatalities.

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