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HEALTH

Lockdown lifting: What kind of Christmas can we expect in France this year?

'It will not be a normal Christmas', warn French politicians, but with some restrictions set to be lifted, this is what we can expect from the festive season this year.

Lockdown lifting: What kind of Christmas can we expect in France this year?
Christmas will be different this year, but Santa can still travel. Photo: AFP

As we reach the end of a long year during which it has frequently been impossible to travel across borders to see loved ones, seeing family and friends at Christmas is important to many.

After France revised its plan for ending lockdown after failing to hit targets on case numbers, here's what Christmas will look like this year.

Lockdown

France will stay in lockdown until December 15th, although all shops reopened on Saturday, November 28th.

From December 15th lockdown will be lifted – but other restrictions remain in place.

From this date, people will no longer need an attestation to leave their homes, and will be able to travel to different regions and visit family and friends.

However a curfew of 8pm to 6am will be in place and theatres, cinemas, museums, bars, restaurants and gyms will remain closed. Large gatherings will still be forbidden.

READ ALSO Calendar: The next key dates in France's lockdown

Christmas plans

So this means that travelling to visit friends and family at Christmas will be possible.

However there are some caveats to that – a nationwide curfew will be in place from 8pm to 6am. This will be lifted on December 24th, but not on December 31st as had been previously suggested.

Large gatherings in public are banned and are strongly discouraged in private.

France has no official limit on how many people can meet in private homes – an early attempt to impose one in the spring was ruled unconstitutional – but politicians have asked people to keep their gatherings modest this year.

A maximum of six adults has been suggested as a reasonable limit, but this cannot be legally enforced if you are not in a public place.

President Emmanuel Macron said: “Breathe and meet up, yes, but I appeal to your sense of responsibility

“This won't be a Christmas holiday like any other.

“We must do everything in our power to avoid a third wave. If we want to avoid a third lockdown, we need to double our vigilance.”

Religious services are now allowed again, with strict hygiene rules in place.

If you are planning a visit to relatives, the government advice is to limit your activities and social interactions as much as possible for five days before you travel. 

Barrier gestures such as handwashing and avoiding kisses and handshakes should still be observed, as masks should be worn when visiting anyone in a high-risk group.

Travel

At present French train operator SNCF is running just 30 percent of its normal long-distance services, since lockdown rules mean that very few people can travel.

However, the rail operator says it will be running 100 percent of its normal services over the holiday period.

At present all tickets booked via SNCF have free refunds or exchanges.

International travel

From December 15th, non-essential travel will again be allowed in and out of France.

However many countries have restrictions in place, including quarantines, for arrivals from France.

READ ALSO Where can you travel to from France once lockdown ends?

For travellers from outside Europe, strict limits on essential travel only remain in place, as they have since the spring.

For full details on international travel, click here.

Ski resorts

But there is bad news for those hoping for a skiing holiday over Christmas – ski resorts will not open over the holiday period, Macron has announced.

Instead, the government says it is aiming for a reopening in January, with a firm decision due by the end of December.

Member comments

  1. I am chaplain of one of the fairly numerous Anglican congregations in France, and my lay leaders and I are concerned that we may not be able to offer our annual Lessons and Carols Service, nor our Christmas Day Service, but we have not seen anything from the French government regarding religious observances after the confinement is finished. There is a significant amount of planning that goes into a service and it can not be left to the last minute. All Anglican congregations that I am aware of, were practicing social distancing measures well beyond what the French government has required. We hope there will be a determination made as soon as possible about holding Christmas religious observances. Best Regards, Tom

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HEALTH

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new ‘biometric’ health card

The French parliament has approved a €20 million project to launch a 'biometric' version of the carte vitale health insurance card.

Carte vitale: France to adopt a new 'biometric' health card

As part of the French government’s package of financial aid for the cost-of-living crisis, €20 million will be set set aside to launch a biometric health card, after an amendment proposed by senators was approved.

Right-wing senators made this measure a “condition” of their support for the financial aid package, according to French left-wing daily Libération, and on Thursday the measure was approved by the Assemblée nationale.

While it sounds quite high tech, the idea is relatively simple, according to centre-right MP Thibault Bazin: the carte vitale would be equipped with a chip that “contains physical characteristics of the insured, such as their fingerprints” which would allow healthcare providers to identify them.

The carte vitale is the card that allows anyone registered in the French health system to be reimbursed for medical costs such as doctor’s appointments, medical procedures and prescriptions. The card is linked to the patient’s bank account so that costs are reimbursed directly into the bank account, usually within a couple of days.

READ ALSO How a carte vitale works and how to get one

According to the centre-right Les Républicains group, the reason for having a ‘biometric’ carte vitale is to fight against welfare fraud.

They say this would have two functions; firstly the biometric data would ensure the card could only be used by the holder, and secondly the chip would allow for instant deactivation if the card was lost of stolen.

Support for the biometric carte vitale has mostly been concentrated with right-wing representatives, however, opponants say that the implementation of the tool would be costly and lengthy.

It would involve replacing at least 65 million cards across France and repurposing them with biometric chips, in addition to taking fingerprints for all people concerned.

Additionally, all healthcare professionals would have to join the new system and be equipped with devices capable of reading fingerprints. 

Left-leaning representatives have also voiced concerns regarding the protection of personal data and whether plans would comply with European regulations for protecting personal data, as the creation of ‘biometric’ carte vitales would inevitably lead to the creation of a centralised biometric database. Additionally, there are concerns regarding whether this sensitive personal information could be exposed to cybercrime, as the health insurance system in France has been targeted by hackers in the past.

Finally, there is concern that the amount of financial loss represented by carte vitale fraud has been overestimated. The true figures are difficult to establish, but fraud related to carte vitale use is only a small part of general welfare fraud, which also covers unemployment benefits and other government subsidy schemes.

The scheme is set to begin in the autumn, but there us no information on how this will be done, and whether the biometric chip will just be added to new cards, or whether existing cards will be replaced with new ones. 

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