Should I cancel my trip to France because of coronavirus?

Should I cancel my trip to France because of coronavirus?
New restrictions on daily life in France. Nimes photo: AFP
As the number of confirmed cases continues to rise and coronavirus dominates the headlines, some may be wondering about cancelling trips to France. Here's what you need to know about the situation.

This article is no longer being updated because the situation has changed dramatically. For the latest information on the situation in France, and the restrictions in place, click here.

 

 

When we asked our readers about their questions and concerns over coronavirus, the biggest worry was among people who have trips to France planned. Here we look at the current situation and how that affects tourists.

READ ALSO Coronavius and travel – what is the situation for France?

What about transport?

The major effect on transport so far is the USA's decision to ban arrivals from Schengen zone countries. Announced on Wednesday night by US president Donald Trump, not everything is clear about the ban at this stage.

It seems that American citizens are not covered by it, neither are people who travel from France to the US via the UK, nor are flights from American to France. However it's early days and it's possible that some of these loopholes will be closed in the coming days. So while it's still possible for Americans to come to France, they might face some problems getting back.

Away from transatlantic routes, most flight disruptions are down to individual airlines cancelling and France itself has not imposed any restrictions on flights.

However travel between France and Italy is badly disrupted as airlines including Air France, Ryanair and Easyjet have cancelled all flights until April.

At present no airline has announced that it will stop flying to France. British Airways has said that it will cancel some of its flights between France and the UK later in March, but this is due to falling demand rather than any health restrictions in place.

Air France announced on Wednesday that anyone who wants to cancel their flight between now and May 31st due to coronavirus fears can do so free of charge.

Eurostar on Friday said all its trains were running as usual, but offered all its customers with a ticket between March 13th and April 7th to postpone their ticket until later this year.

 

The EU has announced it will suspend it's 'use it or lose it' rule in relation to airport slots that had compelled some airlines to operate virtually empty flights, so with a sharp fall in passenger numbers we see more flights cancelled in the weeks ahead.

Within France itself public transport is so far largely unaffected, and there has so far not been made any restrictions to travel inside of the country.

Public transport in the cities is continuing as normal and Paris Metro bosses say they have stepped up the cleaning schedule (although we've yet to notice any difference).

French rail operator SNCF is also offering free cancellations and alterations of pre-booked tickets.

French politicians did briefly discuss whether to close the Italian border when the outbreak in Italy was first reported, and concluded that it would do little to halt the spread of the virus.

What is the situation in France?

France was the first country in Europe to confirm a coronavirus case, back on January 24th. That outbreak was limited to 12 people – all but one of whom had recently travelled from China. Eleven recovered and one – an 80-year-old man – died.

You can find the latest information on the situation in France here.

There was then a pause of almost two weeks until a more serious outbreak occurred in neighbouring Italy, which has gradually spread to France.

By Thursday, March 12th nearly 3,000 people had become infected and the death toll currently stands at 61.

All of those who have died were elderly, had underlying health conditions or both.

At present the cases are largely concentrated in nine 'clusters' – in Mulhouse in Haut-Rhin, Morbihan in Brittany, the Oise département in north east France, two clusters in Haut-Savoie close to the Swiss border, the whole island of Corsica, Aude département in southern France, Calvados in Normandy and the eastern part of Montpellier.

All mainland French regions have reported at least one case.

MAP Which areas of France are worst affected by coronavirus?


The Paris half marathon was cancelled at the weekend and all gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces are now prohibited. Photo: AFP

How has this affected daily life?

On Friday, March 13th Prime Minister Edouard Philippe announced that all gatherings of more than 100 people would be banned with immediate effect.

Concerts, major sporting events, trade fairs and carnivals have been cancelled.

Museums and tourist sites remain open, but some of the bigger one including Musée d'Orsay and Versailles are limiting visitor numbers. People are advised to check with the individual attraction and pre-book tickets if possible.

Louvre on Friday closed its doors to visitors “until further notice” and Disneyland Paris has shut down until the end of March.

On Thursday, President Emmanuel Macron announced a new package of measures that are likely to have a more indirect effect on daily life.

From Monday, all schools, colleges and nurseries will shut. This will obviously have a major effect on the workforce as parents have to stay home and look after their children, so expect to see offices, shops and restaurants reducing their opening hours.

READ ALSO: 'The last day when everything will be normal' – parents in France braced for school closures

People aged over 70, the disabled and those with serious health conditions have been told to stay home, while everyone is encouraged to limit their social interactions, so expect bars and restaurants to be quieter than normal.

In cluster zones the restrictions are more stringent with all public gatherings including markets and Sunday Mass cancelled, and many schools are closed.

The government has also advised people to avoid shaking hands and doing la bise (the distinctive French double kiss greeting).

READ ALSO: Bise blues – How the French are coping with the coronavirus kissing ban

Anyone in France is also advised to follow this basic health advice:

  • Wash hands your thoroughly and often with soap and water, especially after coughing and sneezing or before eating or it you have been touching surfaces that many other people will have touched such as on the Metro
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth, especially with unwashed hands.
  • Cover your nose and mouth with your elbow when coughing or sneezing
  • Use disposable tissues and throw them away after use
  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.

Only people who have the virus or are self isolating need to wear masks, other people do not need them and they do not protect against the virus. The French government is now requisitioning mask stocks to stop panic buying and ensure there are supplies for the people who need them.

If you are planning a trip to Lourdes, the shrine will remain open but local authorities are taking extra hygiene measures – given that many of the people who visit are sick or elderly – which include emptying the fonts of holy water and making some alterations to the Mass celebrations.


Most transport is still functioning as normal during the outbreak. Photo: AFP

Is there likely to be a quarantine or curfew?

At this stage no. France is currently in 'stage 2' or the pre-epidemic stage, but politicians have said for some days that a full epidemic is probably only a matter of time.

We look at exactly what that means here (and why it's less scary than it sounds). France's emergency planning laws do contain provision to declare population restrictions if the government deems it necessary, but it is not at present part of the coronavirus plan.

Instead the expected measures for stage three include extra support and funding for health professionals, financial support for people who cannot work and possible restrictions on public transport.

How dangerous is the virus anyway?

This is a new virus so at this stage there are a lot of uncertainties about it, and there is still no vaccine or confirmed cure.

However the World Health Organisation is currently putting the death toll at about 3.5 percent – so higher than for seasonal flu but still not very high.

So far in Europe the majority of the people who have died have been elderly or had underlying health issues.

READ ALSO What are the rules of self isolating and quarantine in France?

If you do decide to come, it's likely that people will be pleased to see you.

France's tourist industry took a hammering in December and over the New Year – usually one of the busiest times of the year, especially in Paris – as mass transportation strikes caused many people to stay away.

Hotels, bars and restaurants reported a significant dip in takings.

The hardship came on top of a year of 'yellow vest' protests, particularly in Paris, which put some people off from travelling to France.


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