LATEST: Coronavirus death toll rises as France grapples with new restrictions

France ratcheted up security measures this weekend to stem the coronavirus epidemic, which has lead to 127 deaths and contaminated more than 5,400 people. (Paywall free)

LATEST: Coronavirus death toll rises as France grapples with new restrictions
Parisians were enjoying the mild weather on Sunday, despite the government having asked everyone to limit their social interactions as much as possible. Photo: AFP

National health agency Santé Publique France, which has been updating its tally daily, put the new toll at 127 deaths on Sunday, as the government announced more stringent measures to stem the spread of the epidemic in the country.

More than 5,400 people have so far been confirmed contaminated by the virus.

You can find the latest information on the coronavirus situation in France here.

“We will continue to mobilise to counter this health crisis,” Prime Minister Edouard Philippe said on Sunday evening.

The PM said the government would organise new meetings with both the scientific council working specifically with the crisis and the opposition next week to “ensure complete transparency” on their dealings with the crisis.

Voters were instructed to keep a metre between themselves as they waited to cast their polls on Sunday. Photo: AFP

Sunday's local elections went ahead as planned, although voter turnout – despite the government's reassurances that polling stations would take all the necessary precautions to ensure the safety of voters.

“The high abstention rate shows that people are very worried,” the PM said.

Voter abstention was looking to be record high, at 56 percent at 8pm according to the French polling institute Elabe, against 36,45 percent in the last elections in 2014.

France ratcheted up its coronavirus regulations this weekend, ordering the closing of cafes, restaurants, schools and universities – all “non-essential commercial activity” – and limiting long-distance travel “to the strictly necessary.”

“We have observed that the first measures we have taken have not been correctly applied,” Philippe said on Saturday. “The best way to slow the virus is social distancing.”

French health authorities have stressed that 98 percent of people contaminated by the virus recover, but that it was essential to slow the acceleration of the epidemic by adopting measures of social distancing.

Only food stores, pharmacies (drug stores), banks and petrol stations were exempt from the ban and would be able to stay open in the coming weeks.

Bars, hotels and restaurants would still be able to maintain a minimum level of activity to make home deliveries, but they would not be able to receive customers on site.

READ MORE: What's closed (and what's open) in France following the new coronavirus restrictions

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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.