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HEALTH

How will France’s new coronavirus restrictions affect daily life?

French president Emmanuel Macron on Thursday night announced a new package of measures aimed at containing and coping with the coronavirus epidemic. Here's what you need to know if you are in France.

How will France's new coronavirus restrictions affect daily life?
All photos: AFP

Things have moved on a bit since this article – check out the latest situation here

 

 

Ever since the outbreak began over the border in Italy, French health chiefs have been clear that sooner or later France would face an epidemic.

You can follow the latest on the situation in France here.

Emmanuel Macron announced the changes on TV on Thursday night. Photo: AFP

While the country is still officially in stage 2 – pre-epidemic – containment measures have been stepped up and these are likely to have a much bigger impact on daily life than those in place before.

Here's a look at the main ones

Schools closing

From Monday, all schools, universities and nurseries in France will close. Some areas in 'cluster zones' had already closed their schools, but this is nationwide. There was no end date given for the closure.

Macron simply said they would remain closed “jusqu'a nouvel ordre” or in other words “until further notice”.

This will obviously have a massive impact on working parents as well.

We explain a little more here about the rules for working parents, but Macron in his speech told bosses they must allow employees to work from home if it is at all possible.

For those whose job cannot be done from home and who cannot organise childcare, they are entitled to 20 days paid sick leave, by special government decree.

This is likely to have a knock-on effect on many businesses, however, and expect to see more shops, offices, restaurants and tourist attractions either closing or reducing their hours.

Paris transport operator RATP had already worked out a contingency plan for operating with fewer staff than normal (as driving or bus or a Metro is one job that cannot be done from home) so some services may be running a reduced timetable from Monday.

Public transport 

Apart from possible reductions caused by staff having to stay home and look after their children, public transport is not affected by the measures. Macron said it was impractical to stop services, but asked people to consider whether their journey was really necessary.

French rail operator SNCF has already offered free cancellations or alternations of pre-booked tickets.

For the latest on international travel, click here.

'Stay home' orders

The president also told all people who are over the age of 70, disabled or in poor health to stay at home as much as possible and limit their interactions with other people.

There was no suggestion of lockdowns of the type seen in Italy, where people need to provide a justification for being out of their homes, but Macron has stressed that these are the most vulnerable groups to the virus.

Home working

While this will be necessary for parents without childcare, the president said that everyone should do this if they can, and should in general try to limit their movements as much as possible.

Social events were not specifically mentioned, but the president called on everybody to take responsibility and “respect the advice the government has given you”.

Financial help

Even with the advantages of remote working and paid sick leave, there is no doubt that the restrictions are going to hit many businesses and individuals hard. Macron has announced a package of measures to try and alleviate this, including partial unemployment benefits for people whose income drops dramatically during the outbreak and and tax breaks for businesses.

The trève hivernale, the winter truce during which debtors cannot be evicted from their home or have their utilities cut off, will be extended by two months. It was due to end on March 31st.

Elections

Polling for local elections is scheduled for Sunday, March 15th and Sunday, March 22nd and this will go ahead as planned – although voters have been advised to take their own pen.

Macron mentioned that staff at voting stations would ensure elderly voters would not have to wait in the queue for long.

READ ALSO What impact will coronavirus fear have on municipal elections?

France had already put some measures in place, and these of course remain in force. They are;

No gatherings of more than 1,000 people

Announced on Sunday night, this tightened the previous restriction on gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces.

The new restriction is nationwide, but there are exceptions for competitions, public transport and demonstrations.

The France v Ireland Six Nations rugby match planned for March 14th in Paris has been postponed until October and events including concerts, trade fairs and conferences will be cancelled.

Organisers of the Paris Marathon had already announced that the event is postponed until October.

Disneyland Paris will close until at least the end of March after three staff members tested positive for the virus.

Some of the bigger tourist attractions including the Louvre, Musée d'Orsay and Versailles are also limiting visitor numbers, so people are advised to check with the attraction in advance.

MAP Which parts of France are the worst affected by coronavirus?

No gatherings at all in some places

There are nine parts of France that are declared 'cluster' zones which have the highest number of cases, and these have more stringent restrictions.

They are; Morbihan in Brittany, Calvados in Normandy, two areas of Haute-Savoie in eastern France near the Swiss border, the départements of Oise and Haut-Rhin in north east France, the southern département of Aude, part of Montpellier and the island of Corsica.

In these places there is a ban on all public gatherings including markets, community groups and church services.

In Haut-Rhin swimming pools are also closed.

Avoid masks

In the face of panic-buying of surgical masks – meaning that people who need them were struggling to find any – the French government has requisitioned all stocks to distribute to people who need them.

The official advice is that only people who are sick, who are self isolating after having been in contact with a patient or having recently returned from an affected areas, or people who are caring for a sick person need to wear a mask.

Everyone else does not to wear one and masks do not protect you from the virus – they are to stop people potentially infecting others.

READ ALSO The everyday health precautions you can take to stay safe in France

Hand sanistiser gel price cap

The government has also moved to cap the price of hand sanitiser gel at €3 per 100ml after shortages and price hikes.

No kissing

La bise, the French double (or treble) cheek kissing gesture should not be performed, says the government, and neither should people be shaking hands.

No visiting old folk

The elderly appear to be the most vulnerable to the virus, the majority of people who have died in France so far have been in their 70s, 80s and 90s, many with serious underlying health conditions. In order to protect older people as much as possible, the government has advised people to avoid visiting older friends and relatives and potentially infecting them. Visits have been banned in the country's Ehpad retirement homes and care facilities.

Hand washing

Everyone in France should be following this basic health advice.

The population is asked to “show solidarity” with the elderly and vulnerable by adhering to health measures that help avoid the spread of the virus.

  • 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 when coughing or sneezing. Use your elbow rather than your hands
  • Use disposable tissues and throw them away after use
  • Clean off surfaces with alcohol- or chlorine-based disinfectants.

The French government has set up a “green number” that people can call for any non-medical coronavirus-related questions.

The number is 0 800 130 000. There are also daily updates on its website here.

Self isolating

If you have recently travelled to China (including Hong Kong and Macau) South Korea, Iran or the Lombardy, Emilia-Romagna or Veneto regions of Italy, authorities are asking you to self isolate for 14 days.

  • Monitor your temperature twice a day
  • Watch for symptoms of respiratory infection (cough, difficulty breathing)
  • Wear a surgical mask when you are in front of another person and when you have to go out
  • Wash your hands regularly or use a sanitiser gel
  • Avoid any contact with vulnerable people (pregnant women, those with ongoing health problems, elderly people
  • Avoid frequenting places where vulnerable people are present (hospitals, maternity wards, old people's homes)
  • Avoid all non-essential outings (large gatherings, restaurants, cinema)
  • Workers/Students: as far as possible, choose home working and avoid close contact (meetings, lifts, canteen)
  • Children should not be sent to school or nursery

READ ALSO Coronavirus: What are the rules on self isolating?

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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