Extra health measures as Covid-19 situation worsens in France

The French prime minister has unveiled a series of extra restrictions as the country struggles to keep control of the number of new Covid-19 cases.

Extra health measures as Covid-19 situation worsens in France
Prime minister Jean Castex announced the measures on a visit to Montpellier. Photo: AFP

Although the death rates for Covid-19 cases remain low in France – 15 people died in hospital over the last 24 hours – politicians and health experts have become increasingly worried about the steady rise in new cases.

The country has greatly expanded its testing programme in recent weeks, but experts say that more testing alone cannot account for the rise, which has seen more than 1,000 new cases reported for several days.

After a meeting of the country's Defence Council, prime minister Jean Castex unveiled a series of measures.

Speaking on a visit to the CHU hospital in Montpellier, he announced that he would be asking each local authority to draw up its own plan for increasing restrictions on daily life should it become necessary.

MAP In which areas of France are Covid-19 cases rising?

“Every Préfet must develop a targeted plan in their département,” Castex said.

These local plans would include all the measures taken to limit the spread of the virus, the PM said. He listed “preventive health rules, mask-wearing, mandatory declarations of all gatherings of more than 10 people, controls of mask-wearing in enclosed spaces” as points that needed to be included in these plans.

He has previously said that France will not repeat its strict nationwide lockdown, but could bring in local lockdowns if necessary in places where the situation was getting out of control.

He also announced

  • The ban on gatherings of more than 5,000 people will be extended until October 30th
  • Policing will be stepped up to enforce rules already in place around social distancing, mask-wearing and gatherings of more than 10 people
  • Bars and cafés could face temporary closure if their customers repeatedly fail to respect distancing rules
  • The rule on wearing masks in the street could become nationwide as the PM urged local authorities to follow the example of the 330 communes – including Paris – that already have such rules in place.
  • A further extension of testing facilities with easier access 

MAP Where in France is it compulsory to wear a mask in the street?

“The number of hospitalisations and intensive care admissions are on the rise. Twenty-five new clusters are identified every day, against around five per day three weeks ago. All of this is worrying,” Castex said.

“If we do not react collectively, there’s a high risk that the epidemic will resume in a way that will be difficult to control.

“Avoiding going backwards, a major return to lockdown measures, it's essential and it's within our reach. We need to be focused and pull ourselves together.”

France's health ministry said on Monday that 10,800 new coronavirus cases had been identified in the past week, and warned that “circulation of the virus is intensifying, notably among young people and in certain regions such as the metropolitan areas of Paris and Marseille.”

It said mask wearing was “a gesture of common sense” in crowded places and when a safe physical distance between people cannot be observed.

“Adolescents and young adults, less at risk of developing serious forms of the disease, can contribute to spreading it and infecting their loved ones – parents, grandparents and other vulnerable people for whom the consequences could be serious,” the ministry said.

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Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Amid accusations of racism at fancy seaside resorts and legal controversies surrounding US statesmen, we take a look at the law surrounding private beaches in France.

Reader question: Are there private beaches in France?

Question: I read that all beaches in France are public property, but down here on the Riviera there are a lot of ‘private beaches’ – how do the rules actually work?

In France, everyone has the right to a dip in the ocean, though it might not seem that way when walking through certain areas.

There are 1,500 of these “private beaches” in France – the vast majority of them located on the Côte d’Azur.

They have become a source of controversy recently, after two private beaches in Juan-les-Pins were accused of racism and discrimination following an investigation and video circulated by French media Loopsider. The video (below) shows how a white couples receive different treatment than North African or Black couples.

So what are these ‘private beaches’ and are they even legal in France?

In reality, none of these beachfront hotels, resorts or beach operators actually own that land, as the sea and the beach are considered ‘public maritime’ and are therefore the domain of the French state.

This means that technically there are no private beaches in France, as no one is supposed to be allowed to own the beach, though there are some caveats to that rule.

Since 1986, the State has been able to grant ‘concessions’ to allow for parts of the beach to be temporarily rented. Thus, hotels, resorts or beach operators can request a temporary rental of the beach for a specific period of time – the maximum duration being twelve years, which is renewable. If the local town hall agrees, then the renter will pay a fee (typically between €15,000 and €100,000 per year). 

This might seem like a de facto way of allowing beaches to be privatised, but the few who manage to ‘rent the beach’ are still subject to some constraints. For instance, they are only allowed to occupy the beach for six months of the year (sometimes this can be extended up to eight months with the permission of the town hall, or twelve months in less common circumstances).

At the end of the season, they are required to dismantle their installations, so permanent private structures on the beach are therefore not allowed.

So you might see a waterfront resort, but they do not technically have ownership over the beach.

What about private deckchairs or sun beds next to the water? 

This is another rule that is not always perfectly respected. Legally, any organisation that rents a part of the beach is required to leave a strip of “significant width” along the sea.

This is usually about three to five metres from the high tide mark, where members or the public can walk along the water or bring down their own towels or deck chairs down to the beach.

If a ‘private beach’ has deck chairs or sun-loungers right up against the water, there is a good chance the renting organisation is not following the rules.

Beachfront property

As the public has the right to be able to access the beach, homeowners are not allowed to block passage and can even incur fines for doing so. 

The public must be able to pass through land to get to the beach, and cannot be blocked from the beach in front of a property.

Public access to the beach came into the spotlight due to a controversy surrounding a property of former American presidential candidate and statesman, John Kerry.

Kerry’s family owns a villa in Saint-Briac-sur-Mer in Brittany, and has fought a three-decade legal battle to be able to block the coastal trail on the property, which by French law, should be accessible to the public. 

Despite the family siting potential ‘security threats’ should the beach front path be open to the public, local authorities backed plans to continue allowing public access in 2019.

What about building a waterfront property?

First, keep in mind that building in general in France is a heavily regulated process that requires planning permission.

You will not be able to build within 100 metres of the shoreline. If you buy a pre-existing coastal property, you will need to remember the three-metre rule discussed above and, as the Kerry family discovered, you are not allowed to block public access to the beach. 

For ‘coastal zones’ specifically, there are more strict regulations and most plots of land by the sea are listed as protected natural areas, and therefore are not allowed to be built on.

Can access to the beach ever be forbidden?

Yes, as per the Coastal Law of 1986, local authorities can forbid access to the beach for “security, national defence or environmental protection.” During the Covid lockdowns several local authorities banned access to beaches to avoid illicit partying.

There are also several rules about what you are allowed to do – and not to do – while visiting French beaches, and some of them might surprise you. 

READ MORE: The little-known French beach rule that could net you a €1,500 fine