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This is France’s plan for lifting its coronavirus lockdown after May 11th

French president Emmanuel Macron has declared that the country will start to reopen from May 11th. The definitive plan still needs to be debated by the French parliament, but here's what we know at the moment.

This is France's plan for lifting its coronavirus lockdown after May 11th
Photo: AFP

France has been in lockdown since March 17th, with people only allowed out of their homes for essential reasons such as shopping and everyone needing a signed, dated and timed attestation every time they leave the house.

READ ALSO How does France's new smartphone lockdown permission form work?

Over the past week there has been a slow but steady decrease in the number of daily deaths, and the number of people in hospital with coronavirus. Experts are remaining cautious, but it has been enough for the politicians to begin work on the plan to lift France's lockdown restrictions and get the country back to work.

Ministries are currently working on their own plans, these will all be put together by the end of April and debated in the French parliament at the start of May before a final plan is released.

But as the days go by we are learning more detail about the shape of life after May 11th.

Here's what we know so far;

Schools

Schools, crèches and post-16 colleges will open gradually from May 11th.  

Universities will not resume in-person classes “before the summer”.

The reopening of schools will be gradual, with some classes going before others and – crucially – parents will be given the final choice on whether to send their children back straight away or wait a little longer.

But the president and Prime Minister Edouard Philippe have both stressed the need for schools to reopen in order to protect the most disadvantaged pupils, who cannot access learning at home.

We have full details on the school reopening here.

Businesses

Some businesses will start to reopen from May 11th but again this will be a gradual process.

Essential businesses such as food shops and pharmacies have remained open throughout and this will be gradually widened so that more people can get back to work. 

Macron described getting businesses back to work as “a priority” that was essential for the country's economy and said as many as possible should go back to work to relaunch the country's industry, businesses and services.

However people who can work from home will be asked to continue to do so for the immediate future.

Bars, cafés and restaurants

However the May easing of restrictions will not include bars, cafés and restaurants. Along with cinemas,  museums, tourist sites and other businesses that attract large crowds, these will remain shut for longer, although Macron did not say exactly how long.

 

Public events

It has always been understand that events such as sports matches and concerts that attract large crowds would be the last thing to resume, and Macron has said this will not happen until at least mid July.

Travel

France, along with the rest of the EU, has closed its borders to travel from outside the EU (excluding the UK) and this will continue after May 11th.

France has recently brought in strict border controls in which anyone travelling from inside Europe (including the UK) needs to present a travel certificate and non-French citizens are only allowed into the country if they are permanent residents or their journey meets strict criteria of essential travel.

Macron did not mention when these conditions might be lifted.

READ ALSO France's tightens borders with new international travel certificate

Elderly/vulnerable people

People who fall into high risk groups – those over 70 or with serious long-term health conditions – will be asked to continue to self isolate after May 11th, with Macron telling them that the measure is “for your own protection”.

Testing

Macron outlined a three-pronged strategy for ending the lockdown – testing, masks and technical tracking solutions.

From May 11th, France will begin testing everyone who has coronavirus symptoms.

The country has been massively expanding its testing programme from previously testing only healthcare workers and people in high risk groups, and Macron said that from May 11th, there would be sufficient capacity to test everyone who has symptoms, even mild ones.

Anyone who tests positive will be quarantined, but the president did not specify how that would be organised.

But the president backed away from the idea of mass testing, saying that it “made no sense” to test everyone in France.

Masks

The French government has been in recent days revising its previous advice that only sick people need to wear masks.

From May 11th, masks will be available for everyone, via their local government authorities, and Macron said that the wearing of masks when out of the house should become the new normal, especially on public transport.

Macron did not specify how this would be done. France has been shot on masks since the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak, with health personnel, police officers and other groups on the front line of the epidemic complaining that they lacked stocks.

Masks offer little protection to stop you from getting the virus, but they can prevent wearers – many of whom may have no symptoms – from spreading it.

Tracking


The French government is relying on technical solutions to track the virus and an app has been created that will allow people to check if they have been in contact with anyone who has had the virus.

However use of the app remains voluntary and anonymity will be guaranteed, Macron said.

Macron indicated that a vaccine would be the only solution for ending the pandemic, adding there was no evidence of so-called herd immunity among people in France for now.

“According to the initial data… a small minority of people in France have contracted COVID-19,” he said.

 

Economy

Like all political leaders, Macron is attempting the delicate balancing act of keeping the virus contained but without totally trashing the country's economy.

READ ALSO

He said that once the lockdown begins to be lifted we then face the challenge of “rebuilding French agriculture, industry and technology”.

France has already put in place measures to help employees, self employed people and small businesses and Macron announced the extension of some of these schemes including the chômage partiel for employees who can no longer work.

The president said these measures would be “extended and reinforced' throughout the remaining period of the lockdown, and that they would be supplemented with possible financial aid packages for low-income families. Details of these steps would be laid out on Wednesday. 

 

A 'detailed plan' within two weeks time

On Tuesday morning, Interior Minister Christophe Castaner told France Inter that the government would publish a detailed plan for what happens after May 11th sometime “between now and 15 days.”

Castaner also said “what had been announced was not an unwinding of the lockdown on May 11th, it was the continuation of the lockdown until May 11th.”

This was, in other words, another extension of the lockdown, the certainty of which depended on the state of the country by that date. 

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MONEY

Revealed: What will you receive from France’s €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

The French parliament has finally passed a massive €65 billion package of measures aimed at helping French residents with the spiralling cost of living. Here's a rundown of the help on offer, who it's available to and when it comes into effect.

Revealed: What will you receive from France's €65bn cost-of-living aid package?

After three weeks of sometimes heated debate, France’s parliament has adopted its multi-part purchasing power package to help mitigate rising cost of living and inflation.

In total, parliament approved a budget of nearly €65 billion for the whole package. 

It includes a raft of measures including price shields, tax rebates and grants. Here’s what is included and who will benefit.

Electricity and gas The government has voted to extend the tariff shield on gas and electricity prices until the end of the year: this means that gas prices will continue to remain frozen and that price hikes for electricity prices will be capped at four percent. 

For who: This applies to everyone who has a gas or electricity account in France.

When: The price freeze is already in effect and will continue until at least December 31st.

Fuel subsidy – The government’s fuel rebate (on petrol/gasoline and diesel) will be increased from €0.18 per litre to €0.30 in September and October, and then in November and December it will fall to €0.10. 

For who: All drivers (including tourists) – this is applied automatically at all fuel stations in France

When: The €0.18 per litre rebate is already in place and remains until August 31st, and rises to €0.30 on September 1st.

Pensions – The index point for pensions will be raised by four percent.

Who: This covers anyone who receives a French pension – roughly 14 million people – it does not affect anyone who gets a pension from another country.

When: From September 9th. 

Abolishing the TV licence fee – The annual TV licence raised €3.7 billion a year for public broadcasting, with the majority having gone toward France Télévisions, but has now been scrapped. It was €138 per household. 

For who: Any household with a television. This equates to about 23 million households in France who will no longer have to pay this yearly tax.

When: The was due to be levied on November 15th, but this year no bills will be sent out.

Tripling the Macron bonus – The maximum annual bonus – which is exempt from income and social security taxes – will be tripled.

It is a one time, tax-free payout that can be given to workers by their employers – if they chose to. Companies will now be able to pay up to €3,000 to their employees (and up to €6,000 for those with a profit-sharing scheme).

Who: This pertains to salariés (employees) whose businesses choose to offer this bonus.

When: The bonus can be paid between August 1st and December 31st.

Rent cap – Rent increases will be limited to 3.5 percent per year for existing tenants. Some cities already have in place their own rent control schemes, but the 3.5 percent cap is nationwide.

Who – This affects anyone who already has a tenancy agreement for a property in France (and also affects all landlords who are banned from making big rent hikes).

When – The 3.5 percent cap concerns annual rent increases that fall between July 2022 and June 2023.

Housing allowance – Those who benefit from personalised assistance for housing (APL) will see that increased by 3.5 percent.

Who: This pertains to those who qualify for governmental financial assistance with rent. Typically, this means low-income households. If you are already on APL – around 3.5 million people – the increase will be automatic, if you think you might qualify, apply through your local CAF.

When: The increase comes in your next payment, with the increased rate backdated to July 1st 2022.

Social benefits – The RSA top-up benefit will be increased by four percent (local authorities, who deal with RSA, will receive €600 million to help them finance and allocate this increase). Additionally, those who benefit from the ‘prime d’activité‘ (activity bonus) will see that value raised by four percent as well.

Who: Unemployed people below the age of 25 can qualify for RSA – this pertains to about 1.9 million people in France. The activity bonus is available to low-income workers – about 4.3 million people.

When: Catch-up payments will be in place from August 18th to September 5th. On September 5th, the updated payment will begin to be paid out.

Student grants – An increase of 4 percent for student grants (bourses) for higher education

Who: Students under the age of 28 who qualify for financial assistance in the form of grants. These students must qualify as ‘financially precarious’ for the school year of 2022-2023.

When: September 2022

Back-to-school grants – Families who meet certain income requirements are eligible for an allowance to help cover back-to-school costs – that grant will increase by four percent this year. There will also be an extra €100 subsidy for eligible families (with an additional €50 per child) paid “to those who need it most” according to Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire in an interview with RTL. 

Who: Low-income families with children. You can test your family’s eligibility on the website www.service-public.fr. This aid will impact 10.8 million households.

When: The one time payment will be paid at the start of the school-year in September.

The option to convert overtime days into extra cash – This is encompassed in two measures: increasing the ceiling of tax exempt overtime hours to €7,500 and opening the possibility for companies to buy back RTT days from their employees.

Eligible employees covered by the 35-hour week agreement accrue time in lieu if they work overtime, known as RTT days. Currently this time is taken as extra vacation days, but now employees will have the option to forgo the time off and instead be paid extra.

Who: For the buying back of RTT days, this applies to employees (salariés) who have an RTT agreement with their company.

For the increased cap on non-taxed overtime work, this applies to a range of employees, such as those who have 35-hour per week contracts and have their employer request that they work overtime or those who work beyond their part-time contract amount. You can learn more about whether you have the ability to declare overtime hours HERE

When: The RTT days buyout will run from between January 1st, 2022 to December 31st, 2025. For employees eligible for tax-free overtime compensation, the ceiling of €7,500 will only be in place for the year 2022.

READ MORE: EXPLAINED: Why is France’s 35-hour week such a sacred cow?

Pay rise for public sector workers – public sector pay will get a four percent rise in the index.

Who: Anyone employed in France as a fonctionnaire (eg civil servants, teachers, librarians).

When: This will be retroactive to July 1st

Assistance for some self-employed workers – A reduction in health and maternity insurance contributions will be introduced for low-earning self-employed workers. “Microentrepreneurs” will also benefit from a reduction in their flat-rate contributions.

Who: Self-employed workers whose monthly income does not exceed 1.6 times the minimum wage and who are registered as ‘microentrepeneurs’

When: TBC

The biometric carte vitale –  The Senate introduced this into the purchasing power package, but it is not a benefit. It will involve the implementation of a biometric carte vitale health card to “fight against social fraud” by adding an electronic chip with biometric data on it to health insurance cards. You can read more HERE.

Who: Everyone who is registered in the French health system and has a carte vitale (about 60 million people)

When: Lawmakers will begin plans to implement the plans in Autumn 2022, but it’s not clearly exactly what form the rollout will take.

How much will these measures impact inflation?

Some measures will likely be more effective than others. For instance, the extension of the tariff shield and increase of the fuel rebate in the early fall is largely to thank for France’s inflation level being two points lower than the European average, according to INSEE.

On the other hand, the tripling of the ceiling for the (optional) Macron bonus will likely not make a large difference. This is because it will likely not be widely taken advantage of, as last year only 4 million French people received the optional bonus, with the approximate average of the bonus having been only €500.

The pension changes will impact about 14.8 million people in France. However, according to economist Christopher Dembik, the revalorsation values are based on actual inflation and not on inflation expectations. “These revaluation measures will be too weak by the time they will be implemented,” Dembik said to French daily Le Parisien.

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