French government warns it will withdraw financial aid from restaurants that open illegally

French Finance Minister Bruno Le Maire warned restaurant owners Monday that they risked losing Covid-19 financial aid if they open in defiance of the pandemic shutdown, following calls to protest and serve clients.

French government warns it will withdraw financial aid from restaurants that open illegally
The managers of a restaurant in Metz, eastern France, watching Prime Minister Jean Castex laying out new Covid-19 rules on January 7th. Photo: AFP

Angry owners say their livelihoods are at risk since the closures were ordered on October 30th, with little prospect of a return to business as usual anytime soon.

Several chefs and thousands of people have already backed a call by Stephane Turillon, a chef in eastern France, for restaurants to open for protest meals on Monday. 

“It's extremely hard for restaurants, economically and in terms of morale,” Le Maire told RTL radio.

“But in no way does that justify not respecting the rules,” he said.

On Saturday, police in Paris said they discovered 24 restaurants operating illicitly on Thursday and Friday, and warned they would step up controls.

The Parisien newspaper reported Monday that one restaurant shut down on Friday was serving judges who worked at the nearby appeals court on the Île de la Cité, just opposite from the Paris police headquarters.

Le Maire said owners caught serving clients would see their Covid solidarity funds suspended for a month, “and if they do it again, they won't get any more at all”.

Restaurants and other businesses that have been forced to close during the health crisis can receive up to €10,000 ($12,000) a month, or compensation equal to 20 percent of their revenues from 2019, capped at €200,000 per month.

But many owners say the money is not enough to make up for lost sales as they have to keep paying rent.

Last week, a restaurant owner in the Mediterranean city of Nice was detained for questioning after serving lunch to around 100 people.

Christophe Wilson's protest garnered a wave of support on social media, with the hashtag #LiberezChristophe (Free Christophe) trending on Twitter as messages expressed anger at his treatment and the dire financial straits of restaurants.

Government spokesman Gabriel Attal also warned Monday of “financial penalties” for the “very small minority of restaurants that decide to open”.

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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.