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COVID-19

Last night out for French cities ahead of Covid-19 curfew

Millions of French people prepared Friday to enjoy a last night of freedom before a Covid-19 curfew in Paris and other large cities, after officials warned that new efforts were needed to curb an alarming surge in new cases.

Last night out for French cities ahead of Covid-19 curfew
Two women on the terrace of a restaurant in Paris last week. From now on parisians will have to be home by 9pm. Illustration photo: AFP

The curfew, which aims to keep some 20 million people home from 9pm to 6am, was unveiled by President Emmanuel Macron this week as the number of new infections and deaths raised the spectre of hospital overloads like those seen in March and April.

Health authorities reported Thursday a record 30,621 new cases in the past 24 hours and 88 deaths, and over 200 new Covid-19 admissions to intensive care units. 

While the curfew has broad public support – a Harris Interactive poll after Macron's announcement found 70 percent approval – officials in several cities worried about the heavy social and economic costs of a measure set to last at least a month.

The new nighttime restrictions come into force for the first time at midnight on Friday in the capital and eight other major regional cities.

Paris Mayor Anne Hidalgo is pressing the government to ease the rules for theatres, cinemas and other cultural venues so that patrons can return home later, with details on the rules in the capital expected later Friday.

Restaurant owners have also complained bitterly about a measure they say makes little sense given the strict social distancing rules they have already applied, and noting that groups of less than six can still gather for lunch.

“I've never seen anything like this in the 50 years I've been here,” said Stain Roman, manager of La Mere Buonavista restaurant in Marseille, another city facing the curfew.

She said she would close down entirely at night, as have hundreds of other restaurants across France. “What else can we do? Our employees have to be home by 9pm,” she said.

Marseille's Mayor Michele Rubirola – herself a doctor – contested a measure she said resulted from the government's insufficent efforts to bolster hospital systems over the last few months.

She said residents were paying the price “by the loss of their daily pleasures, their freedom, or through economic hardship, because the bar and restaurant industry is being hit extremely hard.”

French police officers patrolling at night during lockdown. As of this weekend, they will be out again to make sure the curfew is respected. Illustration photo: AFP

'Everybody home'

Prime Minister Jean Castex confirmed Thursday that the curfew requires nearly all businesses would have to shut their doors, except for essential services, with “everybody home from 9 to 6.”

A signed attestation or an electronic version downloaded to a phone will be needed for people walking their dogs or other exceptions, or risk a fine of €135 – the same as during the two-month lockdown during the height of the pandemic.

That prompted the French cinemas federation to warn of “extremely serious” consequences for the sector, urging authorities to let people return later for films that end after 9pm.

Officials have also outlawed wedding celebrations and other parties in public venues as well as student parties, and urged people to limit gatherings in private homes to six people as well.

“We have to act. We need to put a brake on the spread of the virus,” Macron said Wednesday, when he also put the entire country back under a health state of emergency.

The move notably requires all restaurants to require clients to provide contact details so that authorities can contact them if a coronavirus infection is reported.

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COVID-19

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The French parliament has passed the controversial health bill which updates France's emergency provisions for Covid - and allows the return of negative Covid tests for all travellers at the border, if the health situation requires.

French government votes to allow return of Covid tests at border

The Loi sanitaire was eventually approved by the Assemblée nationale on Monday after several variations and amendments added on its passage through the Assemblée and the Senate. It was voted on and passed Tuesday, May 26th. 

The bill replaces the State of Health Emergency that has been in place since March 2020 and puts in place provision for government actions should the health situation deteriorate or a dangerous new variant of Covid emerge.

The original text had a provision for the return of the health pass at the border, but this has now been scrapped and instead the government has the right to make a negative Covid test a condition of entry for all travellers.

At present negative tests are required only for unvaccinated travellers, and the new test requirement would only be put into force if a dangerous new variant emerges.

The government will be able to implement the testing rule by decree for two months, but a further parliamentary debate would be required to extend it beyond that.

From August 1st the State of Health Emergency will be formally repealed, which means that the government no longer has the power to introduce major limits on personal freedom such as lockdowns or curfews without first having a debate in parliament.

The bill also allows for an extension of data collection required for the SI-DEP epidemic monitoring tools such as the contact tracing app Tous Anti Covid until June 30th, 2023 and Contact Covid until January 31st, 2023. 

The most controversial measure in the bill was the reinstatement of healthcare workers who were suspended for being unvaccinated – this actually only involves a couple of hundred people but medical unions and the medical regulator Haut Autorité de Santé (HAS) have both been against it.

However the bill allows for the eventual lifting of the requirement for Covid vaccination for healthcare workers, when the HAS judges it is no longer necessary and once the requirement is lifted, the suspended healthcare workers will be reinstated “immediately”.

The bill was approved on Monday evening with 184 votes to 149, the result of a joint committee that was able to harmonise the versions of the Assembly and the Senate.

The final vote passed the Senate on Tuesday.

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