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LIVING IN FRANCE

France to see 8 percent drop in GDP this year after lockdown extension

The French economy is expected to contract a worse-than-expected eight percent this year, reflecting the impact of an extended coronavirus lockdown until May 11th, Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire said Tuesday.

France to see 8 percent drop in GDP this year after lockdown extension
French Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire. Photo: AFP

Le Maire had previously targeted a six percent GDP decline for this year but that was based on a lockdown that lasted just one month, instead of the two-month period announced by President Emmanuel Macron in a televised address Monday night.

Le Maire told BFM television that the eight percent forecast would be included in a new 2020 budget programme set to be unveiled this week.

But he cautioned that given the uncertain outlook for economies across the globe, not least in the United States and Asia, “these forecasts need to be considered with caution.”

The massive relief effort for bars, restaurants, hotel, shops and other businesses closed during the lockdown will push France's budget deficit up to 9 percent of GDP this year, Budget Minister Gerald Darmanin said separately in an interview with France Info radio.

“Each day, each week of confinement… is worsening our public finances,” he said, adding that France's debt pile would soar to 115 percent of GDP, up from just under 100 percent last year.

Both forecasts are well above the limits set by the EU's Stability and Growth Pact, which call for deficits to be capped at three percent of GDP, and a debt-to-GDP ratio of 60 percent.

But EU officials have already signalled the rules will be suspended as governments scramble to contain the economic fallout and prevent mass bankruptcies and layoffs.

Le Maire said government aid for smaller companies at risk of going under, after losing at least 50 percent of their revenues, would be raised to as much as €5,000 euros, up from €1,500 previously.

The total amount of this rescue fund would now reach seven billion euros, he said.

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COVID-19

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

With a sharp rise in reported cases in recent weeks, France appears to be in the middle of a new wave of Covid infections - so what measures are the government taking to control it?

Return of the health pass? How France plans to tackle new wave of Covid cases

Recorded case numbers in France are now over 50,000 a week, and have been since the beginning of June – this is a long way short of the 350,000 weekly cases recorded in January but still the highest since May and representing a steady an increase of 57 percent on the previous week.

Hospital admissions are also on the rise – standing at 707 admissions on Friday, June 24th compared to 400 daily admissions just two weeks earlier.

So what is the French government doing about it?

Since March, almost all Covid-related restrictions have been lifted in France – the health pass is no longer required for everyday activities such as visiting a bar or going to the gym and face masks are now merely advised in all indoor locations. Only hospitals and other health establishments such as nursing homes still have mandatory rules on face masks and health passes.

For international travel, fully vaccinated arrivals from most countries – including the UK, US and the whole of the EU – need only to show proof of vaccination, while unvaccinated travellers need to show proof of a recent negative Covid test – full details HERE.

Health pass

A proposed bill from the health ministry that was leaked to French media talks about re-imposing some form of pass sanitaire (health pass) to get numbers under control.

Some caveats to add here is that the document is only a proposal at this stage and the government has explicitly rules out – for the moment – reintroducing the vaccine pass. The health pass can be used to show either proof of vaccination or a recent negative Covid test, so it is less restrictive for the unvaccinated.

The document suggests re-introducing a health pass for travel – both to and from France – not for everyday activities like going to a café.

Testing and contact tracing

The bill also proposes extending the software involved in contact tracing and the Covid testing programme until March 2023, although this is described as a ‘precaution’.

Testing remains available on a walk-in basis at most French pharmacies and by appointment at health centres and medical labs. Tests are free for fully-vaccinated residents of France who have a carte vitale. Those are only visiting France, who are not registered in the French health system or who are not vaccinated have to pay – prices are capped at €22 for an antigen test and €54 for a PCR test.

READ ALSO How tourists in France can get a Covid test

Masks

The government’s Covid vaccine adviser Alain Fischer told France Info that he was in favour of making face masks compulsory on public transport again and said it is ‘being discussed” at government level.

At present masks are not required, but are recommended, especially on busy services where it is impossible to practice social distancing.

Epidemiologist Pascal Crépey said: “In crowded trains, the risk of being in the presence of infected people is high. It would be a good idea for the population to wear the mask, to protect especially the most fragile and avoid massive infection rates.”

Local measures

French local authorities also have the power to impose certain types of restrictions if their area has a particularly high rate of infections.

At present, none have done so, but Nice mayor Christian Estrosi has spoken in favour of possibly bringing back the vaccine pass over the summer.

Second booster shots

A second booster shot of the Covid vaccine is now available to all over 60s and anyone who has a long-term medical condition or who is otherwise at risk from Covid.

It is recommended that the government increase public messaging advising those in high risk groups to get the second booster shot. The medical regular HAS has advised combining second booster shots with the seasonal flu vaccine campaign in September and October.

France is not, at present, considering widening the campaign to the entire popular, but the EU’s vaccine commissioner Thierry Breton says that if necessary, there would be enough doses to cover the whole population.

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