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HEALTH

Coronavirus: French health workers to get free train travel while Paris mayor raises alarm over busy markets

French health workers responding to calls to reinforce overwhelmed hospitals will get free transport on trains, the state rail operator SNCF said on Monday while the mayor of Paris raises alarm about busy markets.

Coronavirus: French health workers to get free train travel while Paris mayor raises alarm over busy markets
French health workers responding to calls to reinforce overwhelmed hospitals will get free transport on trains, the state rail operator SNCF said on Monday. AFP

Doctors, nurses and aid workers are in short supply in Paris and in other areas suffering the brunt of the coronavirus outbreak, which has now caused 860 deaths in France.

Medical workers who can prove they are travelling for work will ride for free, even as rail services were slashed after a nationwide stay-at-home order to curb the outbreak, the head of SNCF Voyages, Alain Krakovitch, told AFP. 

“The SNCF should be showing solidarity with aid workers,” he said.

Officials in eastern France have also made local train and bus services free for health workers, and the mayor of the Mediterranean city of Nice said Sunday that public buses were now exclusively for the use of health workers.

French energy giant Total said Monday it was offering hospitals fuel vouchers to distribute to health workers for use at its network of petrol stations, a donation worth up to €50 million ($54 million).

With hospitals already overwhelmed by 7,240 coronavirus patients, the military has stepped in to transfer sick people from the worst-hit regions and set up field hospitals.

Doctors have urged officials to extend and possibly tighten the confinement measures keeping people at home, and a scientific advisory panel set up by President Emmanuel Macron is set to give an opinion shortly, an Elysee Palace official said.

Several cities have imposed curfews in recent days, though the measure has not yet been ordered for Paris, where outdoor food markets were held as usual over the weekend, albeit with stepped-up police patrols.

Mayor Anne Hidalgo said Monday that she had asked the Paris police chief to evaluate the risks of keeping the markets open, after crowds thronged markets in the city's working-class neighbourhoods of Barbès and Belleville.

Later on Monday French PM Edouard Philippe told TV viewers that pen air markets would be closed although local authorities could apply to keep them open in special cases.

On Sunday, France's parliament declared a health emergency for a two-month period, giving the government greater powers to fight the pandemic.

The law allows the government to take measures to support companies and backs up its decision to delay the second round of municipal elections.

The government has also increased fines for leaving home without a valid reason, with the penalty for a second offence now €1,500 ($1,600).

Police said nearly 1.8 million checks have been carried out since the confinement was imposed last Tuesday, with nearly 92,000 fines issued.

Government spokeswoman Sibeth Ndiaye said on Sunday that a confinement extension was “likely”, while Education Minister Jean-Michel Blanquer said schools were unlikely to resume before May 4.

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HEALTH

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

After the seismic decision of the US Supreme Court on Friday, French MPs are calling for the right to abortion in France to be protected by the constitution.

French lawmakers push for abortion rights to be enshrined in constitution

Lawmakers from French President Emmanuel Macron’s Renaissance party are to propose a parliamentary bill on Saturday that would enshrine the right to abortion in the constitution. 

The move comes after the US Supreme Court overturned the landmark 1973 “Roe v. Wade” decision on Friday.

“In France we guarantee and advance the rights of women. We protect them,” said Aurore Bergé – the head of Renaissance in the Assemblée nationale and one of the key sponsors of the bill. 

Another co-sponsor, Marie-Pierre Rixain tweeted: “What happens in elsewhere cannot happen in France. We must protect the right to abortion for future generations. 

In 2018 and 2019, Emmanuel Macron’s party – which back then was known as La République en Marche – refused to back bills proposed by left-wing party, La France Insoumise, to enshrine abortion rights into the constitution. 

In a Saturday interview with France Inter, Bergé suggested that the success of Marine Le Pen’s Rassemblement National during parliamentary elections earlier this month had created a sense of newfound urgency. 

She described the far-right MPs as “fierce opponents of women’s access to abortion” and said it was important “to take no risk” in securing it. 

READ MORE France’s Macron condemns US abortion ruling

French Prime Minister Elisabeth Borne has come out in support of the bill. 

The left-wing opposition block, NUPES, also backs it and had planned to propose an identical piece legislation of its own on Monday. 

Macron is seeking parliamentary allies to pass reforms after his formation lost its majority in legislative elections earlier this month.

The legal timeframe to terminate a pregnancy in France was extended from 12 to 14 weeks in the last legislature.

Changing the constitution requires the National Assembly and Senate to adopt the same text, then a three-fifths majority of parliament sitting in congress. The other option is a referendum.

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