France cracks down on Covid rule breakers to avoid lockdown

French police have ramped up checks of bars, restaurants and shops after the government demanded harder punishments for those breaching the Covid-19 health restrictions.

France cracks down on Covid rule breakers to avoid lockdown
A police officer inspects a bar in Paris on February 3rd. Photo: AFP

The scene at the small Parisian cafe looks almost normal: smokers queueing for a pack of cigarettes, gamblers buying lottery tickets or picking up betting slips for the races.

That is, until the police walk in, reminding customers, and the owner, that nothing is the same in the Covid pandemic.

“There are too many people here, count them,” an officer orders his team.

It turns out that nine people are crowding the tiny space, too many according to government rules saying that shops and other outlets can admit only one customer for every eight square metres (86 square feet) of floor space.

President Emmanuel Macron’s government is trying to avoid another Covid lockdown, which would be France’s third, even as infection numbers remain high.

On Wednesday, the public health authority reported 26,362 new Covid cases for the previous 24 hours, and 358 Covid deaths.

‘I don’t want to close’ 

Instead the government hopes that measures already in force – including a nightly curfew from 6pm and a ban on cafes and restaurants except for takeaway fare – will be enough to cut infection numbers.

To make sure they do, authorities are getting tougher on those who don’t comply.

“Please let us stay open, I don’t want to close, I want to work,” pleads the owner of the bar in the east of the capital when the officer tells him that he risks being closed down as well as fined.

To no avail: “I’m not the prefect, I don’t decide, I simply file my report,” the policeman responds.

A Paris police officer writes a ticket inside a restaurant on February 3rd. Photo AFP

Once such an incident is reported, sanctions can follow quickly, sometimes the same day, or the next morning.

“It’s a tough job. I’m always on my clients’ backs, always telling them to wear masks. I enforce the law, but customers don’t like it,” the owner says from behind the bar fitted with sheets of plastic for protection.

But the officer is adamant: “You have to educate your clients. Here, you need to think of yourself as both a tobacconist and a policeman.”

The owner promises to post a large sign at the door saying “No more than three people at the same time.”

Over the past week, the French capital’s police have cracked down much more severely on establishments receiving customers that do not meet the health requirements.

“We’ve become much stricter. We don’t tolerate any violations,” said Romain Semedard, police chief for Paris’s 12th Arrondissement. “We used to hand out warnings. Now we close them down, usually for a week or two.”

At a kebab takeaway nearby, police caught a staff member with a face mask tucked under his nose instead of covering it, and fined him €135 on the spot.

A tobacconist failing to advertise the maximum number of clients allowed was fined the previous day.

Police patrol the streets of Paris. Photo: AFP

‘A question of fairness’

And a corner grocer who was caught staying open beyond the 6pm curfew received notice to shutter the shop.

“That may seem harsh, but it’s a question of fairness towards those who abide by the rules,” Semedard said.

Inside a small Italian restaurant, an elderly lady was sitting at a table and a regular was leaning on the bar when the police arrived.

“They’re waiting for their takeout order and the lady needed to sit, is that allowed?” the anxious restaurant owner inquired when a patrol arrived.

“So long as they don’t eat or drink in here, everything is in order,” an officer replied.

Further down the street, the patrol inspected the cellar of a restaurant for signs of any recent illegal gathering, but they found only stacks of tables and chairs stored away awaiting better days.

Elsewhere in Paris, police discovered 24 restaurants opening illegally last week alone, and shut them all down for two weeks.

Authorities have also been making good on a threat by Economy Minister Bruno Le Maire, who said that restaurants violating Covid rules would lose access to emergency government funding for a month at first, and indefinitely if they are caught again.

Member comments

Log in here to leave a comment.
Become a Member to leave a comment.


Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

France has begun a trial in eight areas of a smartphone version of the 'carte vitale' - the card required to access the French public health system - with the eventual aim of rolling out the app across the country. Here's how it will work.

Health insurance: France to roll out smartphone version of carte vitale

What is happening?

France is making changes to the carte vitale – the crucial card that allows residents of France to access the public health system. If you don’t have the card – here’s how to get it.

The new project involves replacing the physical card with a virtual one that is stored on your smartphone via an app.

The French government is beginning a pilot project in eight départements with the intention of expanding the system to cover the whole country in 2023.

The trial areas are; Bas-Rhin, Loire-Atlantique, Puy-de-Dôme, Saône-et-Loire, Sarthe, Seine-Maritime, Rhône and Alpes-Maritimes and the trials are voluntary for people who want to sign up. 

How does it work?

At present, the app is only available to those living in the trial areas mentioned above, and it can only be used by people who are already registered in the French system and have a carte vitale. It is not an alternative to the current registration process. 

If you have a carte vitale, however, you can transfer it onto your phone, which saves you having to remember to carry your card around.

You first download the app MonCV and then begin the sign-up process. In order to do this you will need your current card and social security number and will also have to go through a series of security steps including uploading a scan of your passport or ID card and then making a ‘short film’ of your face in order to verify your identity. 

Once registered, you can then use it at the doctor, pharmacist, vaccine centre or any other situation in which you previously used your carte vitale. You will be able to either show a QR code to scan, or scan your phone using NFC technology (similar to Metro and train smartphone tickets, which works even if your phone is turned off or out of battery).

Can you still use a card version?

Yes. If you don’t own a smartphone or are just not a fan of apps you can continue to use the physical card with no changes.

What does this change for healthcare access?

It doesn’t change anything in terms of your access to healthcare or paying for it, but some extra functions are set to be added to the app once the scheme is rolled out nationwide.

The first one is to link up your carte vitale with your mutuelle (complementary insurance) if you have it, so you don’t need to show extra proof from your insurance company in order to get full reimbursement.

The second is to add a ‘trusted person’ to your carte vitale, allowing them to use your card to, for example, pick up a prescription for you or to allow grandparents to take children to medical appointments (normally children are included on their parents’ card). 

Is this replacing the biometric carte vitale? 

You might remember talk earlier this year of a ‘biometric’ carte vitale, in which people would have to register biometric details such as their fingerprints in order to keep using their carte vitale.

This seems to have now been kicked into the long grass – it was a parliamentary amendment to a bill proposed by the centre-right Les Républicains party and was intended to combat prescription fraud.

Experts within the sector say that the costs and inconvenience of making everyone register their biometric details and get a new card far outweigh the costs of prescription fraud and the idea seems to have been put on the back burner for now.