France’s SNCF to ramp up train services to allow Parisians to return home

A quarter of the French capital's population is estimated to have left the city before lockdown began, many fleeing to second homes in the countryside.

France's SNCF to ramp up train services to allow Parisians to return home
Photos: AFP

Now SNCF has announced it will increase the regularity of its train services to Paris over the weekend as the country prepares to enter Phase 1 of the lockdown de-escalation on Monday May 11th.

The French state-owned railway company will make around 15 percent of TGV and Intercités services available on Friday, Saturday and Sunday, France Info reported.

Only 7 percent of TGV and Intercités trains have been in circulation since the start of France’s lockdown period.

The news raises questions again about the mass movement of Parisians, 24 percent of whom fled the capital for their second homes as soon as president Emmanuel Macron announced France’s lockdown from March 17th.

The exodus in many cases pitted city dwellers against France’s rural population due to fears that residents of Paris, where Covid-19 cases have been highest since the pandemic began, were spreading the virus throughout the country.

However, the increase in services over the weekend concerns only TGV connections from France’s western Atlantic regions and the south-east, as well as Intercités services from Normandy.

Some of trains will be Ouigos, the low-cost TGV trains that have only half of the seats of regular TGVs.

Ticket sales are available through pre-booking only in order to maintain social distancing at stations and on trains and half of seats will be sold.

“As the deconfinement phases get underway, the supply of passenger trains will increase, giving priority to daily trains,” SNCF announced, while stating that the goal is “a return to normal by the end of June”.

As of May 11th, the number of Ile-de-France commuter trains running will be between 50 percent and 60 percent that of the normal frequency.

Traffic for TER trains will bebetween 40 percent and 50 percent the usual amount, and for TGV and Intercités a little more than 30 percent.

Some French unions are concerned that this surge in traffic services will undermine the current health measures in place, arguing that SNCF employees may refuse to work through concerns about the lack of social distancing.  

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French doctors to stage more strikes in February

General practitioners in France are planning another industrial action that will see doctors' offices closed as they call for better investment in community healthcare.

French doctors to stage more strikes in February

Primary care doctors in France announced plans to strike again in February, after walkouts in December and over the Christmas-New Year holidays in early January.

The strike will take place on Tuesday, February 14th, and it comes just a few weeks ahead of the end-of-February deadline where France’s social security apparatus, Assurance Maladie, must reach an agreement to a structure for fees for GPs for the next five years.

Hospital doctors in France are largely barred from striking, but community healthcare workers such as GPs are self-employed and therefore can walk out. 

Their walk-out comes amid mass strike actions in February over the French government’s proposed pension reform. You can find updated information on pensions strikes HERE.

Previous industrial action led to widespread closures of primary care medical offices across the country. In December, strike action saw between 50 to 70 percent of doctor’s surgeries closed.

READ MORE: Urgent care: How to access non-emergency medical care in France

New concerns among GPs

According to reporting by La Depeche, in the upcoming strike in February primary care doctors will also be walking out over a new fear – the possibility of compulsory ‘on-call’ hours.

Currently, French GPs take on-call hours on a voluntary basis. Obligatory on-call time for primary care doctors was scrapped in the early 2000s after GPs mobilised against the requirement.

However, representatives from the Hospital Federation have called for it to be reinstated in order to help relieve emergency services.

Additionally, GPs are calling for Saturday shifts to considered as part of their standard working week, in order to allow for a two-day weekend.

Striking primary care doctors are more broadly calling for actions by the government and Assurance Maladie to help make the field more appealing to younger physicians entering the profession, as the country faces more medical deserts, and for working conditions to be improved.

Those walking out hope to see administrative procedures to be simplified and for the basic consultation fee – typically capped to €25 – to be doubled to €50.

In France patients pay the doctor upfront for a visit, and then a portion of the fee is reimbursed by the government via the carte vitale health card.