Bar closures and compulsory masks in Marseille as Covid-19 infections rise

Local authorities in the département of Bouches-du-Rhône - a 'red zone' for coronavirus infections - have announced extra restrictions for the Mediterranean city of Marseille.

Bar closures and compulsory masks in Marseille as Covid-19 infections rise
Marseille's Vieux Port area. Photo: AFP

The area around Marseille is one of 10 départements in France that are now 'red zones' because of the number of new Covid-19 cases that they are reporting.

The designation as a red zone gives local authorities extra powers to impose restrictions if they feel it is necessary, but so far few have done so.

READ ALSO What does it mean if my département is a red zone?

Now Christophe Mirmand, the Préfet (Prefect) of the Bouches-du-Rhône area, has announced that all restaurants and bars will close from 11pm, curbing the vibrant nightlife that is a feature of Marseille.

He has also announced that masks will be compulsory in all outdoor areas of the city of Marseille, following in the footsteps of Toulouse and Nice, which have introduced the same rule.

Around 400 communes in France have introduced some sort of rule on mask-wearing in the open air, but in most places it is only compulsory in certain areas. National law makes masks compulsory in all indoor public spaces at risk of a €135 fine, while from September 1st they will also be compulsory in all indoor shared work spaces.

Mirmand said he hoped his measures would be seen as proportionate and he did not want to be seen as “bullying” the population.

READ ALSO MAP: Where in France are Covid-19 infections rising?

He told FranceInfo: “The biological indicators available to us testify to the difficulty we are facing – an increase at the regional level in the incidence rate for new cases of Covid, which is about 90 per 100,000 inhabitants, but with much higher figures in the Bouches-du-Rhône department, where the incidence rate reaches 131.4 per 100,000 inhabitants.

“This is a situation that therefore justifies action.

“When these figures are analysed a little more closely, this increase is seen more particularly in the young adult population.

“This is therefore a good indication of a situation that is becoming more difficult and worsening, and which therefore requires that preventive measures be taken at the local level to avoid the risk of a wider spread of the virus. And this is why I would describe the measure I took as appropriate.”

All bars, restaurants and food shops in the département must now be closed between 11pm and 6am.

Local authorities in Marseille strongly oppose the new rules, which they say will have a negative economic and psychological impact on the city, especially on the hospitality sector which was badly hit by the lockdown in the spring.

“We are still in summer time, it is still very hot, there are people here with small, even unsanitary apartments. We cannot ask people not to gather,” newly elected Mayor Michèle Rubirola (Green Party) told French media after the decision was made.

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‘Public opinion is ready’ – These French senators want to legalise marijuana

A group of 31 French senators of the Socialist, Green and Republican parties have come together to write a statement calling for the legalisation of marijuana in France.

'Public opinion is ready' - These French senators want to legalise marijuana

France is known for having some of the strictest laws regarding marijuana consumption in Europe – while simultaneously maintaining one of the highest rates of cannabis usage in the EU. 

A group of French senators – coming from the Socialist, Green and centre-right Les Républicains parties – are trying to change those laws, and have come together to call for marijuana to be legalised in France.

The group of 31 co-signed a statement published in French newspaper, Le Monde, on Wednesday, August 10th.

In the statement, the senators promised to launch a ‘consultation process’ to submit a bill to legalise marijuana “in the coming months.”

The proposition was headed by Senator Gilbert-Luc Devinaz, a member of the Socialist Party, and gained support from the party’s leader, Patrick Kanner.

READ MORE: The long and winding road towards changing France’s cannabis laws

A report by the Assemblé Nationale, which was published in May 2021, estimated that nearly 18 million French people (more than 25 percent of the population) had already consumed marijuana, and that an additional 1.5 million consume it regularly.

This, coupled with the 2019 finding that nearly one in two French people (45 percent) said they were in favour of legalisation, according to a survey by the French Observatory of Drugs and Drug Addiction (OFDT), helped strengthen the senators’ position.

“Public opinion is ready, the legislature must act,” they wrote.

Their senators argue that legalising marijuana in France will allow the authorities to better protect French citizens, saying that legalising would not require “minimising the health impacts of cannabis consumption” but rather would allow regulation similar to “public policies for tobacco, alcohol or gambling.”

For the group of 31 senators, the benefits of legalisation would involve a better control over the “health quality of products consumed,” “curbing trafficking in disadvantaged areas,” developing large-scale prevention plans,” and finally the taxation of cannabis products and redirection of law enforcement resources. Decriminalisation – in their opinion – would not be sufficient as this would simply “deprive authorities the ability to act,” in contrast to legalisation. 

READ MORE: Is France moving towards legalising cannabis for recreational purposes?

“In the long term, new tax revenues would be generated from the cannabis trade and from savings in the justice and police sectors”, which would make it possible to mobilize “significant resources for prevention as well as for rehabilitation and economic development,” wrote the senators.

In France, the conversation around cannabis has evolved in recent years – former Health Minister (and current government spokesman) Olivier Véran said to France Bleu in September 2021 that “countries that have gone towards legalisation have results better than those of France in the last ten years,” adding that he was interested in the potential therapeutic use of cannabis.

Currently, the drug is illegal in France. Previously, it fell under a 1970-law of illicit drug use, making it punishable with up to a year prison and an up to €3,750 fine.

However, in 2020, the government softened the penalties, making it possible for those caught consuming it to opt for an on-the-spot fine of €200.

There is also an ongoing trial involving 3,000 patients to test the impacts of medical marijuana usage, particularly with regard to pain relief.