More than 200,000 people sign up to help French farmers with harvest

More than 200,000 people have answered France's call for temporarily workers to help crop and livestock farmers desperate for extra hands as summer approaches, Agriculture Minister Didier Guillaume said on Tuesday.

More than 200,000 people sign up to help French farmers with harvest
Photo: AFP

“Today we have more than 200,000 applicants, and we have 5,000 recruiters who are organising the work,” Guillaume told France 2 television.

“We're not going to make these people cross the country, they're going to work near their homes, near farmers, but also in food industry, transport and logistics,” he said.

“It's very important to make sure these products get to where they can be sold.”

Guillaume issued his appeal last month for a “great agricultural army” amid the coronavirus lockdown that has seen layoffs of tens of thousands of people, as well as border closures that are depriving farmers of their usual contingents of migrant seasonal labourers.

The need for able bodies is urgent as harvests loom for asparagus, strawberries, tomatoes and other early season produce, and the livestock breeding begins in earnest.

The nationwide stay-at-home orders have also meant growing stockpiles of perishable goods for many producers as restaurants, school cafeterias and other major clients stay shut.

Guillaume said it was urgent to keep France's food distribution channels running smoothly, warning that in case of breakdowns “there would not be enough for our citizens to eat.”

He also urged people to eat locally.

“If you can't get to the countryside, the countryside will come to you – buy fresh products, fruits and vegetables,” he said. “Buy fish, buy seafood!”

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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.