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France’s local lockdowns – what is being planned if Covid-19 cases spike?

The French government has ruled out a return to the strict nationwide lockdown that brought the country to a virtual standstill in March and April, but as Covid-19 cases continue to rise, what is being planned for hotspot areas?

France's local lockdowns - what is being planned if Covid-19 cases spike?
Could parts of France be going back into lockdown? Photo: AFP

At the height of the coronavirus pandemic France brought in one of the strictest lockdowns in Europe with everyone ordered to stay home unless absolutely necessary and a form required every time you stepped out of your home.

While this undoubtedly brought case numbers under control, it also had a massive effect on the national economy.

The economic effects, combined with the much improved testing and tracing programme, means that ministers say France will not go back to a nationwide lockdown.

But as cases continue to rise at quite worrying rates, what is being proposed is the introduction of local lockdowns for 'hotspot' areas.

So what would this involve exactly?

France's prime minister Jean Castex was known as Monsieur Déconfinement for his work on the lifting of France's lockdown. Photo: AFP

The person spearheading the local lockdown plan is Jean Castex, France's newly appointed prime minister who in his previous role was responsible for drawing up the detailed plan to gradually ease France out of lockdown.

Here's what he has to say.

“What must be avoided above all else is general réconfinement [return to full lockown]
 
“We now know what it produces: such a measure breaks the progression of the epidemic, certainly, but at an economic and social level it is catastrophic, including for the psychological health of some of our fellow citizens,” he told the Nice-Matin newspaper.
 
“If there is to be lockdown, it could be very localised lockdowns. We will adapt.”
 
He, along with health minister Olivier Véran, also stressed that the way to avoid such a course was for everyone to continue practicing social distancing and hygiene measures.
 
But at the moment, the situation is causing some concern with sharply rising case numbers in certain areas including Brittany, south west France and the Paris region.
 
 
Both local and national authorities are calling on people to remember the health measures and not get complacent, but if cases continue to rise we could be looking at some more drastic measures.
 
Closures
 
Some closures have already happened on a local level, with authorities in the Brittany département of Morbihan closing beaches and parks at night after a spike in cases in one commune.
 
A bar in the town of Quiberon has been closed down after it was found to be at the centre of a cluster of cases and the Préfet for the area says he is considering more night-time closures of bars.
 
The government could also decide to impose lockdown on a certain area if there is a high number of cases.
 
The talk of 'very localised' lockdowns suggests this would be done on a town or département basis, rather than putting entire regions under lockdown.
 
If this is imposed, it is likely that bars and restaurants would again be ordered to close.
 
In Paris, Anne Souyis, the city representative responsible for health, says she thinks taking contact details for all bar and restaurant customers for tracing in the event of an outbreak – as happens in parts of Germany and Switzerland – would be a good idea.
 
 
Extra restrictions
 
Again this is already happening in some areas as local authorities decide to impose their own rules in addition to the government's measures. Some towns have made it compulsory to wear a mask on the street, which goes further than the government rule on wearing masks indoors.
 
At the beginning of the epidemic we also saw local authorities take their own measures such as closing schools and markets before the nationwide restrictions came in.
 
Any local lockdown would be likely to include closing markets, banning large gatherings and shutting public spaces. French schools are currently on their long summer holiday so a decision will not need to be taken about that until late August ahead of la rentrée on September 1st.
 
Travel bans
 
Many people who have holidays booked are now rather nervously eyeing the international travel rules after the UK abruptly imposed a quarantine on all arrivals from Spain. So far France has given no indication that it will do this and the border with Spain remains open, although French people are advised not to travel to Catalonia, the worst affected region of Spain.
 
Passengers arriving in France from 16 countries considered high risk now face compulsory Covid tests on arrival.
 
 
During the lockdown people who were permanent residents of France were allowed to come back if they were away so you won't be stranded, but any new rules could scupper holidays or long-awaited trips to see relatives in another country.
 
There's also the issue of travel restrictions inside France, such as a possible resumption of the 100km limit for non-essential trips away from home, although again this is likely to be limited to areas where outbreaks are bad.
 
Stay-home orders
 
This is probably the measure that people fear most – will they be confined to their homes again? In the Spanish region of Catalonia, which has seen a spike in cases, residents of Barcelona have been urged by city authorities to stay home, but for the moment it is only advice and there is no return to the fines and policing of the full lockdown.
 
The French government could well do likewise in badly affected areas and many people who have recently returned to work could find themselves on télétravail (remote working) again.
 
A return to the system of attestations for every trip outside the home and fines for non-compliance would likely be a last resort if other measures had failed to stem a rise in cases.
 
Case numbers
 
The French government has so far not released any information on the kind of case numbers that would lead to local lockdows, and it is likely that any decision would be in response to a range of factors including pressure on local hospitals.
 
 
Santé Publique France uses the guideline figure of 10 cases per 100,000 of the population to alert to areas that it is concerned about.
 
There are currently nine départements that are considered 'of concern' under this formula, although the designation does not trigger any specific measures. Cases also remain high in Paris and the surrounding areas, so this could trigger extra measures in the capital.
 
When will we know more?
 
Castex says he is working on a detailed plan for localised lockdown, including the threshold they will be triggered at. He told French media last week that is would be “ready soon”.

Member comments

  1. So Macron yet again has appointed another blinkered yes man with no experience to follow the Party line. This man was the cause of all these outbreaks in areas that didn’t have them before by opening the country up too early. This isn’t “rocket science” but common sense.

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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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