French government faces task of bringing home 130,000 citizens stuck abroad

Some 130,000 French citizens are currently stuck abroad because of measures to contain the coronavirus spread, Foreign Minister Jean-Yves Le Drian said Friday, adding that the government is working to organise their return home.

French government faces task of bringing home 130,000 citizens stuck abroad
Tourists in Tunis Carthage airport wait for flights back to France. Photo: AFP

“The toughest question involves those who were travelling abroad, on trips, mostly on holiday and who number around 130,000 across the planet,” Le Drian told France Info radio.

“Our operating principle is that we want to get these 130,000 back on national territory,” he said, while calling on people to remain calm and be patient.

The foreign ministry announced Thursday that it was working to obtain authorisation for exceptional commercial flights out of countries that have imposed travel restrictions to contain the virus outbreak.

It has also called on airlines to maintain flights towards France and to lower ticket prices for the emergency returns.

The government “will be particularly vigilant to make sure ticket prices are regulated and capped, so there won't be any speculation in this matter,” Le Drian said.

The ministry has set up a website, (SOS Shelter), where people can request emergency lodgings from fellow citizens living abroad who have offered to take in stranded travellers.

Le Drian's comments came as government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said it was “quite likely” that France's stay-at-home order would have to be extended into April, beyond the 15 days announced by President Emmanuel Macron on Monday.

But despite warnings of additional measures because many people are not strictly following the self-confinement rules, a full curfew “is not being considered for the time being,” Ndiaye told BFM television.

Macron, who said Thursday that too many people are taking the confinement measures “lightly,” is holding a new crisis management meeting with top officials Friday.

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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.