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HEALTH

Paris braces for tourism hit as virus keeps Chinese at home

The new coronavirus outbreak is depriving Paris hotels, restaurants and retailers of big-spending Chinese visitors, the latest challenge for a French tourism industry facing headwinds from homegrown protests and Brexit, officials said Monday.

Paris braces for tourism hit as virus keeps Chinese at home
Around 950,000 Chinese visited Paris last year. Photo: AFP

“For now, airline forecasts suggest a 60 percent drop in Chinese visitors for February, March and April compared with the same period last year,” said Valerie Pecresse, president of the Ile-de-France region that encompasses the French capital.

“Yet Asian clients are absolutely crucial for us,” she said while presenting 2019 tourism figures for the region.

READ ALSO: Coronavirus: France steps up epidemic preparations after deaths in Italy

Around 950,000 Chinese visited Paris last year, making them the fifth-largest source of tourists by nationality, according to the CRT regional tourism committee.

But they were the second-biggest spenders overall, shelling out one billion euros ($1.1 billion) on hotel rooms, restaurants, museum visits and shopping sprees.

The GNC hotels association has already warned of a surge in cancellations by Chinese clients, especially by tour groups, whose cancellation rates reached 80 percent in January and nearly 100 percent for February.

Pecresse compared the current virus scare to the SRAS outbreak, “which had a very strong impact on Asian tourist travel, with 300,000 fewer visitors in 2003 from 2002.”

If an epidemic is declared in other Asian countries or in Europe, “the situation would become even more alarming,” she said.

Last year, Paris and its surrounding region chalked up 50 million visitors, up slightly from 2018, while overall spending was stable at nearly 22 billion euros, the CRT said.

“The uncertainties linked to Brexit, the protests in France, the weaker economic climate in Europe and global trade tensions dissuaded some groups, notably from Britain, China, and the Middle East,” it said.

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HEALTH

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25

Free birth control for all women under 25 will be available in France from Saturday, expanding a scheme targeting under-18s to ensure young women don't stop taking contraception because they cannot afford it.

France brings in free contraception for all women aged 18-25
A doctor holds an interuterine contraceptive device (IUD) before inserting it in a patient. Photo: Adek Berry/AFP

The scheme, which could benefit three million women, covers the pill, IUDs, contraceptive patches and other methods composed of steroid hormones. Contraception for minors was already free in France.

Several European countries, including Belgium, Germany, the Netherlands and Norway, make contraception free for teens. Britain makes several forms of contraception free to all.

France announced the extension to women under 25 in September, saying surveys showed a decline in the use of contraception mainly for financial reasons.

The move is part of a series of measures taken by President Emmanuel Macron’s government to boost women’s rights and alleviate youth poverty. The free provision is supported by women’s groups including the association En Avant Tous.

“Between 18 and 25-years-old, women are very vulnerable because they lose a lot of rights compared to when they were minors and are very precarious economically,” spokeswoman Louise Delavier told AFP.

Leslie Fonquerne, an expert in gender issues, said there was more to be done.

“This measure in no way resolves the imbalance in the contraceptive burden between women and men,” the sociologist said.

In some developed countries, the free contraception won by women after decades of campaigning is coming under attack again from the religious right.

In the United States, former president Barack Obama’s signature health reform, known as Obamacare, gave most people with health insurance free access to birth control.

But his successor Donald Trump scrapped the measure, allowing employers to opt out of providing contraception coverage on religious grounds — a decision upheld by the Supreme Court in 2020.

Poland’s conservative government has also heavily restricted access to emergency contraception as part of its war on birth control.

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