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‘I miss him all the time’ – The long-distance couples separated by France’s Covid-19 travel restrictions

As countries closed their borders in an attempt to shut Covid-19 out, they also closed the door between many long-distance couples. After months apart, three couples told us about how they have dealt with not knowing when they can see each other again.

'I miss him all the time' - The long-distance couples separated by France's Covid-19 travel restrictions
Benjamín is from Chile and Chloé from France. They are hoping to reunite soon in France. "I love her name because it doesn't have a direct translation to Spanish. Her name is unique," Benjamín said. P

Every evening, Benjamín sets his alarm clock in Chile for 6am to wake up at the same time as his girlfriend Chloé on the other side of the Atlantic in France.

“There is a six hours time difference between us, so she goes to bed a bit late and I early. She wakes up late and I early. Like this we're on the same 'time',” Benjamín, 24, told The Local.
 
For months, the two young students have synced their rhythms to reduce the distance between them, spending their days apart but together, doing the same things at the same time. 

They met in Malta a year ago when they were both learning English. They fell in love – “madly” – and decided that they would be together starting in May or June 2020.

“Then coronavirus happened and here we are. Waiting with more love than ever,” Benjamín said, adding: “The only thing in my mind is be with her.”

When Covid-19 pushed France into lockdown, couples across the country had to deal with the challenge of being confined inside together for over two months.

For other couples the challenge was the opposite. As the pandemic ravaged the world, government after government closed their countries’ borders to prevent the virus from spreading further. 

Even after European countries relaxed travel restrictions from June onwards, many binational unmarried couples remain separated.

The EU's travel rules on 'essential' travel do have an exemption for urgent family travel, but in most places this only counts married couples for reunification.

Pedro and Paloma have been together eight years, but Paloma fears their relationship won't be accepted as serious enough for her to obtain a pass through the French border. Photo: Private

'Open borders for love'

Long-distance couples all over the world have campaigned  for weeks under the slogans #LoveIsNotTourism and #LoveIsEssential, calling on governments to make allowances for those who are in serious relationships but are not married.
 
“We're asking that they open borders for love,” Paloma, 24, told The Local.
Paloma and her boyfriend Pedro, 26, have been together eight years. They are both Brazilian, but Pedro has lived the last three years in France to write his PhD.

Since Pedro moved to France the couple visited each other two or three times a year. They had got used to practicing a long-distance relationship, but they had never been unable to see each other.

Six months of uncertainty, of not knowing when they would next be able to see each other, had been daunting, Paloma said.

“I miss him all the time, every day. My heart can't take it anymore,” Paloma said.

A French love pass

Following in the footsteps of Denmark, Germany, Switzerland and the Netherlands, France decided to make it easier for international unmarried couples to reunite under Covid by letting through those able to show that they are in “loving, durable relationships.”

'Love is not tourism': How Germany wants to bring couples separated by pandemic together

But Paloma worried that the requirements were too strict for her and Pedro to qualify for the exemption. Although they have been in a serious relationship for eight years, they don't have paperwork such as joint bank accounts or tenancies to prove their relationship.

 

“We only have pictures of us, social media publications, bank transcripts, airport stamps, tickets showing frequent visits and WhatsApp conversations,” Paloma said.
 
France's tourism minister Jean-Baptiste Lemoyne the French weekly Journal du Dimanche that virtual exchanges would not be sufficient, and the JDD listed “a rental lease agreement, joint invoices or a bank account, passport stamps establishing regular visits” as examples of valid proof.

But how could love be measured through financial documents? The idea upset Paloma.

“We live in a globalised world with thousands of binational couples who are a family, but who don't have official papers proving it,” she said.
 
 
Edouard and Debra met when Debra was on holiday in France. Here they are later together in the Paris Luxembourg gardens. Photo: Private
 
'I pray we don't lose the relationship'

Debra, 55, an American based in Colorado who had a three-year relationship with “a wonderful man in Marseille” said: “I do worry but I am also hearing they are still trying to perfect the process.”

To prove her love for Edouard, 41, she had “passport stamps, train tickets with our names, emails, texts and photos.”

The past three years Debra has left her home in Colorado to spend a month every year in Marseille. But this year her journey was delayed by Covid.

“I was supposed to go to visit him in July, then changed to August and now I’m hoping to get there in mid September,” she said.

“It has been so stressful. I’ve had to start counselling to help me get through it,” she said.

They had spent the past months making many long video calls and Debra was planning to move to France soon, but she said the long uncertain wait had taken its toll on their relationship.

“We both miss each other and it’s devastating to us both on so many levels. I have a ton of anxiety all the time and worry constantly. I have no peace in my life because of this now.”

“I just pray we will get through it and not lose the relationship because of this.”

 

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COVID-19

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

France's public health body outlined how Covid-19 rules changed starting on February 1st, including an end to compulsory self-isolation after a positive test result.

France scraps compulsory self-isolation after positive Covid test

Starting on February 1st, Covid rules relaxed in France as the country brought an end to compulsory isolation for those who test positive for the virus.

However, those travelling from China to France will still be required to agree to a random screening upon arrival and to isolate in the case of a positive Covid-19 test result. Travellers aged 11 and over coming from China must also provide a negative test result (less tan 48 hours) prior to boarding and those aged six and over must agree to wear a mask on board flights. These regulations – which was set to last until January 31st – is set to remain in place until February 15th.

The French public health body (The Direction générale de la santé or DGS)  announced the change on Saturday in a decree published in the “Journal Officiel” outlining the various ways the body will loosen previous coronavirus restrictions.

READ MORE: What Covid rules and recommendations remain for visiting France?

Those who were in contact with someone who tested positive – ie a contact cases – will also no longer be required to take a test, though the public health body stressed that both testing after contact and isolating after receiving a positive test remain recommended.

Previously, even asymptomatic people who had been in contact with someone who tested positive for Covid-19 were required to test on the second day after being notified that they were a “contact-case”.

These changes took effect on February 1st.

READ MORE: What changes in France in February 2023?

The DGS also said that website SI-DEP, which records test results, will remain in operation until June 30th, however starting in February it will only collect personal data with the express permission of the patient.

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Additionally, the French government announced that sick leave procedures for people with Covid-19 would return to normal starting February 1st – this means that those who test positive for Covid-19 now also have the three-day wait period before daily sick benefits are required to be paid, as is usually the case. Previously, people with Covid-19 could expect daily sick benefits to begin at the start of their sick leave period (arrêt maladie in French).  

READ MORE: How sick leave pay in France compares to other countries in Europe

Covid tests are still available on walk-in basis from most pharmacies are are free to people who are fully vaccinated and registered in the French health system. Unvaccinated people, or visitors to France, have to pay up to a maximum of €22 for an antigen test of €49 for a PCR test. 

If you recently tested positive for Covid-19 in France – or you suspect you may have contracted Covid-19 – you can find some information for how to proceed here.

In explaining the changes that began at the start of February, the French public health body also noted a drop in Covid-19 infections in the past month. As of January 30th, approximately 3,800 people in France had tested positive in the previous 24 hours for the coronavirus – which represents a decrease from the averages of 20,000 new cases per day about one month ago.

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