Unemployment in France rises to 4.5 million record high

Unemployment in France has reached levels not seen since 1996 as the coronavirus epidemic and lockdown measures continue to bite.

Unemployment in France rises to 4.5 million record high
Photo: AFP

There are now 4.5 million people out of work in France, the highest number seen since 1996.

French job centres reported that an extra 1,065,200 people registered as category A job-seekers – people who have no employment at all – in April.

However a closer look at the figures show that 633,600 of those people were already registered in the Pôle emploi system but as people on 'reduced activity' who had some work.

Overall in April an extra 209,300 people signed on for unemployment.

The people who are receiving chômage partielthe French government's furlough scheme – do not appear in these statistics as they are still employed, even if they are currently not working and the government is paying their salary.

The data seems to suggest that the most vulnerable people in the job market – those on short-term contracts, temporary or partial work and intermittently employed people are the first to feel the effects of the huge economic slowdown that has accompanied the lockdown.

Experts predict that France is on course for its worst recession since 1945.

France's unemployment system allows people to register with the Pôle emploi for top-up benefits with the largest groups of these including seasonal workers who can claim benefits during the 'off' season for their work and intermittants du spectacle – people who work in the arts who can top up irregular incomes if they need to.

As well as the furlough scheme, the French government has also brought in support packages for self-employed people and small business owners, as well as specific packages for industries including tourism and the arts and culture sector.

READ ALSO How well is France's €7 billion plan to save small businesses really working?

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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


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.