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France imposes border controls in scramble to avoid lockdown

New border controls went into force in France on Sunday January 24th, as part of a massive effort to contain the spread of Covid-19 and avoid another nationwide lockdown.

France imposes border controls in scramble to avoid lockdown
Image: FRANCOIS LO PRESTI / AFP

After a slow start to vaccinations, French health authorities reported that a million people had received coronavirus inoculations by Saturday.

But stubbornly high new rates for infections, hospitalisations and Covid deaths fuelled fears France may need another full lockdown, which would be the third, inflicting yet more devastation on businesses and daily lives.

Starting Sunday, arrivals to France from European Union countries by air or sea must be able to produce a negative PCR test result obtained in the previous 72 hours.

The requirement had already applied to non-EU arrivals since mid-January. EU travellers entering France by land, including cross-border workers, will not need a negative test.

Some 62,000 people currently arrive in French airports and sea ports from other EU countries every week, according to Transport Minister Jean-Baptiste Djebbari.

Paris's main international airport Roissy-Charles-de-Gaulle has set up testing centres in a terminal dedicated to intra-EU flights to allow arriving passengers who failed to obtain a test in their country of origin to get one before passing immigration.

The French health agency on Saturday reported 23,924 new Covid cases in the previous 24 hours, and 321 new coronavirus deaths, taking the French death toll to 72,877.

The total number of hospitalised Covid patients stood at 25,800, of whom nearly 2,900 were in intensive care.

Also by Saturday January 23rd, one million people in France had received at least one anti-Covid jab, Prime Minister Jean Castex said, four weeks after kicking off the vaccination campaign, focusing first on people over 75 in care homes and health workers over 50.

Industry Minister Agnes Pannier-Runacher said she was “reasonably confident” France would meet its target of vaccinating 15 million people by the end of June, adding more than 1.9 million vaccine doses had been received to date.

Health Minister Oliver Veran meanwhile warned that if current measures,including a nationwide daily curfew starting at 6pm, prove insufficient, another lockdown can not be ruled out.

“We need the curfew to show results,” Veran said. “In a best-case scenario, we will manage to diminish the pressure of the epidemic. If not, we will not wait for the month of March before acting,” he told Le Parisien newspaper.

France went into lockdown twice in 2020, the first time between March and May and then October to December.

READ ALSO: IN DETAIL: What travel restrictions does France have in place? 

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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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