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COVID-19

Eiffel Tower and other Paris tourist sites close doors over coronavirus

France's top tourists sites, including the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower, closed on Friday as the government banned all gatherings of more than 100 people to stem the spread of the coronavirus epidemic.

Eiffel Tower and other Paris tourist sites close doors over coronavirus
The Eiffel Tower has been closed to visitors as France tries to get the coronavirus epidemic under control. Photo: AFP

The country – the most visited in the world – is one of Europe's hardest hit by the coronavirus pandemic, with more than 3,661 infections and 79 deaths confirmed on Friday evening.

Its tourism and cultural sectors have been particularly hard hit, as the government has ramped up containment measures over the outbreak, closing schools and banning large gatherings.

Both the Louvre and the Eiffel Tower will remain closed until further notice, while the Palace of Versailles said it was also shutting its doors.

Eiffel Tower management said it hoped “to be able to reopen very soon when conditions allow it”, in a statement on its website Friday. 

 

The Louvre – the most visited museum in the world – had already restricted entry to 1,000 people at a time as the number of coronavirus cases in France has climbed.

In a sign that the shutdown could be relatively long-lasting, the museum said it was also postponing two upcoming exhibitions, including a show on Italian sculpture from Donatello to Michelangelo which was not due to open until May.

You can find all our coverage of the coronavirus situation in France here.

Louvre closed its doors over coronavirus restrictions on Friday. Photo: AFP

 The Palace of Versailles — France's other big tourist attraction with nearly 10 million tourists a year — swiftly followed suit.

The Musee d'Orsay in Paris, which holds the world's biggest collection of Impressionist paintings, also said on its website it was closed.

A string of other museums said they too were shutting their doors after the French culture ministry ordered state institutions to shut or to severely restrict entry Friday. Public theatres, libraries and concert halls were also told to close.

France's Culture Franck Riester is quarantined at his home after testing positive for the virus earlier this week.

Fears of long shutdown

The prospect of a long shutdown has left theatres and concert halls in Paris staring into the financial abyss.

The entertainment industry across France – but particularly in the capital – had already been reeling from a six-week transport strike over pension reforms earlier this year, which has left the Paris Opera alone facing loses of 16.4 million $18 million) euros.

Impressario Jean-Marc Dumontet, who owns several Paris theatres, told AFP that the shutdown was a devastating double blow.

“Some of my staff are in tears,” he said. “It's a knock-out blow. Projects are having to be abandoned,” adding that all shows opening between now and August are threatened. “It's extremely sad and really shocking.”

The Paris Opera has pulled 34 operas, ballets and concerts at its two opera houses in the French capital, with only shows after April 24 still due to go ahead for now. All rehearsals have also been cancelled.

“We have still enough money to meet our obligations,” said the opera's CEO Martin Ajdari, but he warned that “anything that will follow this difficult period will be complicated” 

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COVID-19

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.

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