The Assemblée national on Wednesday voted in favour of extending the state of health emergency. The proposal still needs to go before the Senate, but the government hopes to have it in place before February 16th, when the current emergency designation runs out.
France first declared a state of health emergency over the Covid pandemic on March 24th 2020 and that ran until July 10th.
In July, ministers decided it was not necessary to extend it “in view of the positive evolution of the health situation at this stage”.
However the worsening situation meant that on October 17th the state of emergency was reimposed until February 16th 2021. It now seems likely to run until at last June, with options to extend again.
But what does such a declaration mean?
Being in a State of Health Emergency does not in itself have any impact on daily life, but all types of State of Emergency give governments extra powers.
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Under the powers of the state of health emergency, the government is able to introduce sweeping measures that dramatically curtail daily life, such as the two strict lockdowns that France has seen this year.
The powers also enable the government to make decisions quickly and not require the full process through the Assemblée nationale and the Senate, as is usually the case with major pieces of legislation – although the spring lockdown and easing of lockdown were debated by both parliaments.
When the first state of health emergency lapsed in July, government passed a bill that gave lesser powers to introduce local controls if the health situation required it.
However the return to a state of emergency in October was shortly afterwards followed by the reintroduction of lockdown on October 30th.
Having a state of emergency that runs until June does not mean that restrictions such as curfews and bar closures will remain in place until then, but it gives the government options to impose restrictions if it feels they are necessary.