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HEALTH

‘Some Americans are paying up to $20,000 for last-minute flights out of France’

There have been reports of chaotic scenes at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport as Americans scramble to get back to the USA ahead of the planned travel ban from Europe.

'Some Americans are paying up to $20,000 for last-minute flights out of France'
Photo: AFP

US president Donald Trump announced on Wednesday night that all travel from Schengen zone countries – including France – would be banned from 11.59pm on Friday, in an attempt to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The ban as announced has a lot of exemptions and loopholes, but the uncertainty over what happens next has caused panic among many Americans who were in France for holidays, work or visiting relatives.

READ ALSO What you need to know about Trump's Europe travel ban

With the announcement that the ban would come in to force on Friday night, many entered a desperate last-minute scramble to get home.

You can stay up to sate with the latest on the situation in France here.

From what we know at the moment it appears that the ban does not cover US citizens or their close family (which includes parents, children and spouses but not partners).

There are also no restrictions on flights from the UK and Ireland and airline or boat crew are exempt.

However with vast numbers of people cancelling their trips, many fear that airlines will soon begin to scrap flights rather than fly virtually empty planes.

The US Department of Homeland Security says it will give more detail over the next two days, so it's possible that some of the loopholes mentioned above could be tightened up.

And all the uncertainty has caused a great deal of concern, with many people scrambling to get back before the ban comes in to force.

Below are the experiences of New York Times journalist Mike McIntire, who was in Paris when he heard the news.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

There were similar scenes at airports around Europe, including London Heathrow and Schipol.

“We were about an hour into our flight from Salt Lake City when we got news of the travel ban to the United States, so we are trying to get back home now,” an American who gave her name as Michelle told AFP as she waited at Paris' Charles de Gaulle airport.

“Hopefully we can get a flight out tomorrow, I don't know. We are just trying to get in before we can't.”

Jennifer, who hails from Idaho, said she was in the air when the announcement came, “so we really have no information… We are told that we need to be back by Friday, and that's all I know.”

French travel agents estimate that about 100,000 people who have booked trips to the United States via agencies in France will be affected by the anti-virus measure.

“It is the worst news for airlines, and it is the worst situation for us,” Rene-Marc Chikli, president of a French tour operators' federation, told AFP.

Have you been affected by the travel ban? Share your experiences at [email protected]

 

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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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