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HEALTH

Should I cancel my trip to France because of coronavirus?

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.

Should I cancel my trip to France because of coronavirus?
New restrictions on daily life in France. Nimes photo: AFP

This article is no longer being updated because the situation has changed dramatically.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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HEALTH

What are the new Covid rules as France scraps its State of Emergency?

France has ended its Covid-19 state of emergency after more than two years - so what does this mean for daily life in France and travel rules?

What are the new Covid rules as France scraps its State of Emergency?

As of August 1st, France has ended its Covid-related state of emergency, which was put into place at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020 and was extended several times. Instead the parliament has adopted a bill giving alternative measures in case of a resurgence in the pandemic.

Here is what has changed;

Lockdowns and curfews – The new legislation has taken away the possibility of further lockdowns and curfews without a parliamentary vote.

Although such measures have not been in effect for several months, it was previously possible for the government to implement lockdown measures or a curfew, without needing the agreement of Parliament. 

The vaccine pass – This too has not been in effect for several months, but similar to lockdowns and curfews, the government would need to go through Parliament if it wished to re-instate the vaccine pass.

The health pass – the health pass (giving people the option of showing either a vaccination certificate or a recent negative Covid test) has been required to enter health centres or nursing homes, but this came to an end on August 1st, so there is now no venue in France that requires either a health or vaccine pass.

The scientific council – As of Sunday, July 31st, the scientific council on Covid-19 and the vaccine strategy steering committees have been scrapped and replaced by a new committee to monitor and anticipate health risks. These two bodies, which the government relied on during the Covid-19 pandemic, were dissolved when the State of emergency came into effect.

The new committee will be made up of sixteen scientific or health professionals – yet to be appointed – who will issue opinions on strategies for all types of health risks including infectious diseases of humans and animals, environmental and food pollutants and climate change.

Mask rules – Since May face coverings have face coverings have been ‘recommended‘ rather than ‘required’ on public transport and only remained compulsory in hospitals and other health centres.

Since the end of the state of emergency the government can no longer require masks to be compulsory in health settings, but individual hospital directors, doctors or pharmacies can require masks to be worn.

AP-HP, the public hospitals of Paris, have decided to maintain the requirement to wear a mask in their establishments.

Individual businesses can set dress code standards and require masking on their premises, but general masking in public spaces is no longer required.

However, obligatory masking “could be made compulsory again in the form of ministerial or prefectural decrees, depending on the evolution or degradation of the health situation; if a new problematic variant of the virus is identified,” according to RFI

TravelThe end of the State of emergency means the end of all Covid-related restrictions at the border.

Since August 1st travellers to France – whichever country they are travelling from – no longer need to provide either proof of vaccination or a negative Covid test, an attestation that they are free of Covid symptoms or any justification for their journey. Basically, travel goes back to how it was before the pandemic.

However, the government has retained the right to reinstate compulsory Covid-19 testing at the border if the health situation changes, for example the emergence of a concerning new variant.

This can be done if the Health Minister has reported its necessity and “after the opinion of the competent scientific authority” and does not require a debate in parliament to impose.

The government will maintain the ability to bring in extra testing for those entering or leaving France until March 31, 2023. 

Covid-19 testing – Covid-19 tests will remain free for residents of France who are registered in the French health system and have completed their vaccine scheme. Visitors to France, those not registered in the French system or the unvaccinated will have to pay for a test – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test or €54 for a PCR test. Tests remain widely available at pharmacies, medical laboratories and health centres.

Self-isolation – if you test positive for Covid you are still obliged to self-isolate. The length of your isolation period depends on your vaccine status and when you test negative for the virus – full details here.

Arrêt maladie – if you test positive for Covid and need time off work you can obtain an ‘arrêt maladie‘ via the online Ameli platform, the MSA, or your healthcare provider. In some situations, this may also apply to you if you are the parent of a child under 16 years of age or of a person with a disability who must isolate due to Covid-19.

Vaccines – Vaccination against Covid-19 remains free and open to all adults without prior condition.

For a fourth dose (or second booster), those eligible include: adults over the age of 60, residents of nursing homes and longterm care units, immunocompromised persons, adults aged 18 to 60 years who are identified as being at risk for severe Covid-19, pregnant women, starting in the 1st trimester of pregnancy, and finally people living with or in regular contact with vulnerable or immunocompromised individuals. 

For those aged 80 and over, a telephone number remains available to help arrange for their vaccination at home or at a health professional’s office.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Who qualifies for a second Covid vaccine booster in France?

Tracing tools – Several of these resources will remain in place until next year. First, ‘Contact Covid,’ which monitors and supports infected people, as well as those they have come into contact with, will be extended until January 31, 2023. The national screening information system (Sidep), which centralises all test results, has been also extended, in this case until June 30, 2023.

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