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Coronavirus events ban – what has been cancelled in France?

As cases of coronavirus continue to rise in France, the government has taken extra measures to try and contain the spread including a ban on certain types of public gathering - so what exactly is being cancelled?

Coronavirus events ban - what has been cancelled in France?
Large concerts are being cancelled, including Madonna's planned Paris dates. Photo: AFP

On Sunday night, France's health minister Olivier Véran announced that all gatherings of more than 1,000 people would be banned in an attempt to contain the spread of coronavirus.

This replaced an earlier, less stringent ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people in enclosed spaces.

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

There are, however, some exemptions and qualifications to the ban, so what exactly is being cancelled?

When he announced the ban, Véran listed three specific exemptions – competitions, demonstrations and public transport. He also added that events “of use to the nation” could be exempted and it would be up to local authorities to come up with a list of these.

There still exists some confusion about exactly what has been banned, partly because the measure was announced in a press conference and has not yet been officially published in the Journel officiel – the French register of new laws and decrees which comes out every Monday.

READ ALSO How are the coronavirus restrictions affecting everyday life in France?


The Paris Metro is running as normal. Photo: AFP

So let's look first at what isn't affected.

Public transport

Specifically listed as an exemption, public transport continues to function as normal. In Paris there are public health announcements being relayed on the Metro, but apart from this things are running as normal, despite several RATP employees being confirmed as having coronavirus.

Trains are continuing to circulate as normal, although rail operator SNCF is offering free alterations or cancellations to pre-booked tickets during the outbreak.

Flights are also continuing as normal, although Air France is also offering free alterations or cancellations and British Airways has cancelled several flights between France and the UK due to falling demand.

At present there are no plans to restrict transport around France.

READ ALSO Six ways to get around Paris without the Metro

Municipal elections

The French government has confirmed that polling scheduled for March 15th and March 22nd will go ahead as planned, while advising groups to cancel political meetings and events in the run up to the elections and hold virtual online meetings instead.

The interior ministry this week issued a statement outlining security measures that polling station personnel should take to limit the risk of any spread of the virus on voting day.

There will be adaptations to polling stations to spread out queues, stagger voting time slots and increase the availability of proxy voting. All polling stations must provide either an area where voters can wash their hands or distribute hand sanitiser.

Personnel have also been instructed to clean the voting booths between each vote and the machines roughly every half-hour. 

In their press statement, the interior ministry discouraged people from wearing gloves, which “could disturb the voting process,” but they did encourage people to bring their own pen (blue or black).

READ ALSO: What you need to know about France's (very complicated) municipal elections

Sporting events

This falls into something of a grey area is it could be considered an exemption as a competition. In reality some events have been cancelled, some postponed and some played behind closed doors.

The France v Ireland Six Nations rugby game has been postponed until the autumn while football games such as the Paris Saint Germain v Dortmund European Champions League match on Wednesday will be played behind closed doors.

France's sport minister Roxana Maracineanu has said that she favours the behind closed doors approach as providing an appropriate balance between safety and letting life continue as normal as far as possible, although clubs are understandably less keen due to the lost revenue from ticket sales.

The Minister added that sports clubs are still free to sell some tickets, as long as they respect the 1,000 maximum rule – including players and club staff.

READ ALSO The everyday health precautions you can take against coronavirus


France's final game of the Six Nations rugby tournament has been postponed until October. Photo: AFP

Demonstrations

The right to demonstrate in France is protected by the Constitution, which could be why demos were exempted from the ban. A planned Marche pour le Climat (climate change march) was at the time of writing still listed as going ahead on Saturday, March 14th in Paris. Several 'yellow vest' events are also listed as going ahead at the weekend, although judging by their recent turnout they are unlikely to come near breaching the 1,000 person limit.

Concerts

Concerts at venues of more than 1,000 person capacity are fairly routinely being cancelled, with Madonna being the latest artist to cancel her planned concerts, scheduled for two dates at the Grand Rex in Paris. An earlier ban only covered gatherings in enclosed spaces but the new bans covers all gatherings, so open air concerts will not be exempt.

The Paris Opéra has also cancelled several performances and is playing one show behind closed doors and live streaming the performance.

Carnivals 

Several carnivals had already been cancelled before the restrictions were put in place – organisers cancelled Annecy carnival and the final day of the Nice carnival, so any large community events, shows, festivals or carnivals now look likely to be cancelled.

Museums

This is another grey area, since the largest museums may not get gatherings of 1,000 people at the same time, but do get more than 1,000 people a day through their doors in total.

The majority of large tourist attractions have opted to stay open but restrict visitor numbers. Both the Louvre and the Musée d'Orsay are limiting visitor numbers as well as Versailles. Visitors are advised to check with the individual attraction and buy tickets online in advance.

 


The Louvre museum is restricting visitor numbers. Photo: AFP

Bars and restaurants

These are open as normal with no restrictions of the kind we have seen in Italy, where customers have to sit one metre apart from each other. Shops are also open as normal and so far we have seen little evidence of panic buying or shortages.

Can gatherings of less than 1,000 people be cancelled?

Yes, local authorities have the power to ban an event of less than 1,000 people if they consider it a health risk.

Anything else?

At present this depends on where you are.

In the six 'cluster' zones – Ajaccio in Corsica, Morbihan in Brittany, Mulhouse in the départements of Haut-Rhin and Oise and two communes in Haut-Savoie – restrictions are more stringent and cover all public gatherings including markets, community group meetings and church services. Schools are closed in the Oise and Haut-Rhin départements and swimming pools closed in Haut-Rhin.

These measures could be extended to other parts of France if more cluster zones develop, or i it is deemed necessary once France reaches 'stage 3' – a full epidemic.

READ ALSO: What to expect if France declares an official coronavirus epidemic

How long will this restriction go on for?

We don't know as obviously it depends what happens with the situation with coronavirus.

French ministers have stressed the need for “proportionality” in their response, but are also aware of the need to limit the spread of the infection. Because coronavirus is a new illness no-one quite knows exactly how long outbreaks usually last for, but looking at the situation in China it seems that infection rates drop off after around three months.

The Paris tourist board has begun a list of the Paris events that are cancelled here.

 

 

 

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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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