Nice and parts of French Riviera impose weekend lockdown as Covid cases soar

The southern French city of Nice and the surrounding area along the Riviera are subject to a weekend lockdown from Saturday as Covid cases spike and hospitals struggle to cope.

Nice and parts of French Riviera impose weekend lockdown as Covid cases soar
People sit in front of the sea on the "Promenade des anglais" on a sunny day on the French riviera city of Nice, on February 21, 2021. AFP

Following consultations between local and national government, on Monday the prefect of the Alpes-Maritimes département announced extra restrictions to try and contain cases of the virus, which are currently three times higher than the national average.

Prefect Bernard Gonzalez announced a series of measures in a press conference on Monday including a weekend lockdown for Nice and its surrounding urban coastal area.

He said: “All these areas have a high incidence rate compared to the national average. The epidemic situation has deteriorated considerably.

Prefect Bernard Gonzalez. AFP

“If nothing is done, infections will continue to increase.”

The city of Nice has reported an incidence rate of 700 cases per 100,000 inhabitants, more than three times the national average.

The Alpes-Maritimes département will from Tuesday be closing all shops of more than 5,000 square metres – apart from food shops and pharmacies.

Border controls along the Italian border will be stepped up and face masks will be obligatory throughout the whole of the Alpes-Maritimes département in all busy areas. Social distancing rules in public places will be reinforced and thousands of extra vaccine doses will be delivered to the area.

The weekend lockdown concerns only the urban area from Menton on the Italian border along the Riviera coast to Théoule-sur-Mer (marked with a red point in the map below) – including Nice, Cannes, Antibes, Grasse and Cagnes-sur-Mer and will be in force for the next two weekends initially.

The prefect also warned that a week-long lockdown has not been ruled out if the situation did not improve.

From Friday at 6pm to Monday at 6am, people living in this area will be subject to the same rules as during France’s two lockdowns – all trips out of the home are banned apart from a specified list of essential reasons which includes food shopping, medical trips and walking the dog.

Trips out for exercise will be allowed but must be limited to one hour per day and people must stay within 5km of their homes – a slight relaxation of the previous 1km rule.

All trips out of the home will need an attestation permission form stating the reason for being out.

The nationwide 6pm curfew will remain in place during the week.

Mayor of Nice Christian Estrosi, who has been calling for extra checks, declared himself ‘satisfied’ with the new rules.

An extra 4,000 doses of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine have been delivered to the département and a ‘massive’ vaccination of people aged between 50 and 64 with underlying health conditions, using the AstraZeneca vaccine, will also begin this week, added Gonzalez.

The Alpes-Maritimes coastal area is so far the only part of France to be subject to additional local measures, something that could become widespread in other hotspot areas.

READ ALSO Local lockdowns – what is happening in Nice and could other areas of France follow suit?

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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.