Covid-19 in France: Your questions answered

You asked about: repeat prescriptions, wearing a mask, exercise options, car maintenance, access to beaches and areas of natural beauty provisions for older shoppers... and more...

21 March 2020
By Jane Hanks

Do children under 18 need their own confinement form  and can they go out alone?

Minors, including teenagers, should not be allowed out on their own. But, if it is necessary and if the reason is included in the authorised list – shopping, medical need, to get some exercise, help vulnerable people or for an urgent and unavoidable family matter – minors can go out with an attestation form signed by their parents.

Teenagers can go out to buy bread, if their parents cannot, but they cannot go and visit their friends.

If a child is out with an adult, only one form is necessary as long as it includes the names of the adult and the children present.

My children over 18 work in another town. Can they return to the family home rather than staying alone in their flat?

They can travel using the confinement form, Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire, ticked in the first box for travel between home and work, but would also need proof of their work, such as a contract. A letter from the parents would help, saying their main residence was in the family house.

What outside physical activity is allowed?

It must be individual, brief and close to the house. What that means is not clear, and each day it is amended, to become stricter. The message: stay at home to save lives and go out as little as possible.

Sports minister Roxana Maracin­eanu tweeted that no one should run for more than 2km. “A short jog for your health, but not 10km.”

But she admitted things were different for those living in a city, such as Paris, and those living in the country.

Group sports are forbidden but you can organise games in your garden with the group you live with.

You can leave your home for a walk or a short jog without contact with anyone else. You need an attestation.

Cycling is not an acceptable activity and the cycling federation FFC said cyclists should stay at home.

Sailing is forbidden and several prefects have closed beaches and coastal paths. Check your prefecture’s website or their Twitter feed. 

The whole Medit­er­ranean coast is out of bounds, plus Corsica, much of Brittany and much of the Atlantic coast. In Vendée, access to beaches, dunes, coastal paths, forests and parks is forbidden, with fines of €135-€375.

All sports facilities, including riding stables, are closed.

Should we exercise at home?

Yes. The sports minister recommends physical activity for everyone at home, with 30 minutes a day for adults and an hour for children and teenagers.

Have a break from sitting or lying down every two hours with a walk around the house or garden, and do stretches. The Sports Ministry website has suggested online sessions, in French, to do at home with ideas for all levels and ages and many of the ideas are in English.

How can I know where access is forbidden in my area?

Prefectures in different departments have brought in their own measures at different times.

For example, on Day 3 of the lockdown, the prefecture in Drôme decided to limit outdoor activity to 30 minutes maximum and to forbid walks in public parks, and on the banks of rivers and lakes.

An easy way to check online is to look at your prefecture’s Twitter feed. Find it by searching for Préfet, department name, Twitter. You should check regularly as prefectures update the situation.

Can you go shopping with someone else from your home?

Only one person is allowed in a car at a time to do shopping, or for any other reason. If you are a single parent with young children and have no alternative, you can take them with you. If someone in your household cannot drive and needs to go out for health reasons, you can drive them to where they need to go.

Reader Keith Chamberlain wrote to say police in Vendée are stopping cars with two people in them, checking both have an attestation and telling them only one person is allowed in a car on specific essential business.

Are there any special provisions for shoppers in supermarkets? Some in the UK have pensioner-only times.

Different supermarkets are taking different measures. Some, such as Intermarché and Netto, offer times for over-70s, opening half an hour early from 8-8.30. 

Auchan only allows a certain number of shoppers inside at a time. It gives priority to over-70s (with an identity card), pregnant women and health workers. Inside, there are plastic screens at each check-out, and floor markings show where people should stand to respect required
distances. Cleaning is more frequent. 

At Drives, staff will load provisions into car boots while the driver stays in the car. No problems with stocking shelves are reported at present.

Can you move house?

You can if it is vital, such as if your lease has ended, to avoid paying two rents. Anyone, whether professional or not, who helps in the move must have an attestation and respect the health measures: wash hands frequently, cough and sneeze into your elbow, use paper tissues, do not shake hands, avoid embraces. However, think of postponing if possible.

What do you do if you are due to sell or buy a property during this period?

Notaire and estate agents’ offices are closed to the public but some continue to work from home, or via email and telephone.

Estate agent Leggetts said that it depended on each individual case and whether the notaire is working or not.

In some cases, buyers or sellers are giving the notaire power of attorney to sign a compromis or acte de vente so a sale can go ahead.

There are likely to be delays, particularly if a survey needs to be done, but some files are moving forward.

If this your situation, get in touch with the notaire and your estate agent.

Can I get a repeat prescription without going to the doctors?

If you have a serious illness and your prescription has run out, pharmacies can give you enough medication for a month and then again, to last until May 31, without a new prescription.

They will inform your doctor and you are reimbursed in the usual way.

For other conditions where you take regular medicines, if you are a known patient, doctors will often provide a repeat prescription if you ring up to request one. 

The prescription will be left in a collection point at the surgery.

If you have their details, you can also ask them to email one to you. Pharmacies are open. You must take an attestation.

Is water from the tap safe to drink?

The Centre d’Information sur l’Eau public information body says tap water is perfectly safe with the usual treatments, including use of chlorine, ozone and UV to kill viruses, such as coronavirus.

World Health Organisation tests have shown no special measures are necessary and no one has been contaminated by drinking treated water.
Water companies all say they are working hard to make sure the networks continue to function well.

What do I do if I am ill or have hurt myself but do not have coronavirus?

You can leave the house for health reasons but you are encouraged to consult your doctor via a video link from your home wherever possible.
Your health cover will pay 100% but not all doctors are equipped.

If you cannot speak to your own GP, you can, exceptionally at this time, make an appointment with another via doctolib.fr, which has a list of GPs, paediatricians, gynaecologists and dermatologists who do télémedicine.

If your contrôle technique is cancelled, can you still drive your car?

Contrôle technique centres are not on the list of services which had to close but most have. The decision on whether or not cars could be used without fear of a fine was still under discussion as we went to press.

Can I go to a garage to get my tyres changed?

Garages are one of the businesses allowed to stay open, but Speedy says on its website that many are closed. It has a list of open garages at speedy.fr in the red bar at the top of the page. You can also check your local garage.

Can I still contact my insurance company if I have a car accident?

Yes, insurance companies are still working on all aspects of insurance, though you will have to contact them by telephone or email.

Will I have to pay if my flights are cancelled and I cannot get to an airport to pick up my car?

It depends on the airport. Bergerac and Toulouse airports say passengers will only have to pay up to their intended flight date, so no more than expected. You must take proof when you finally pick up the car – ideally the ticket or booking confirmation.

How do I know if my train has been cancelled?

If you have a ticket, SNCF says it will contact you by email or text at the latest the evening before if it is cancelled. From 17.00 every day, it gives inform-ation on the services running next day on its website oui.sncf or on its free phone app assistant.sncf.

If you already have a ticket but cannot use it because of Covid-19, you can be refunded for journeys up to and including April 30. For explanations in English, go to en.oui.sncf.

I am in Spain and want to return to my French house. Can I do so? And how, as the two confinement forms are for local residents and do not apply to our situation as we will have to drive through France? Or are we best staying put in Spain during the 15-day shutdown?

The border is not closed and you can still drive from Spain into France to get home, although you may be stopped at the border for controls.
You can download a form giving you authorisation to cross the border and travel home from the French Embassy in Spain’s website  

Public transport by air, train and road has been cut by 50%, but there is flight information on the same page.

Is it safe to receive a package from any area where Covid-19 has been reported?

The World Health Organisation says yes. The likelihood of an infected person contaminating commercial goods is low and the risk of catching the virus that causes Covid-19 from a package that has been moved, travelled, and exposed to different conditions and temperature is also low.

When can you work from home, télétravail?

During this lockdown period, your employer cannot refuse to allow you to work from home, if your job is such that you can do so.

Labour minister Muriel Pénicaud has said it is an “automatic right”.

However, if you do not have your own computer or decent internet, then you may have to go into work. If someone has been laid off and is at home on chômage partiel, because their business is not operating, then the employer does not have the right to ask that employee to do any work.

If the person has been given sick leave to stay at home to look after children, they too cannot be asked to do any work from home.

What is the advice over use of masks?

The World Health Organisation advice is you should only wear a mask if you are ill with Covid-19 symptoms (especially coughing) or looking after someone who may have the virus.

Disposable face masks can only be used once – so if you are not ill or looking after someone who is ill, then you are wasting a mask. There is a worldwide shortage, so the WHO asks people to use them wisely.

Can employers force you to take your holiday during the confinement period?

No, they cannot, even if demand for their business is down.

They can, however, ask you to change the dates of your holidays because the law says this is possible in “exceptional circumstances”.

What documents are necessary for travel to work?

You need both confinement forms, Attestation de Déplacement Dérogatoire which you tick in the first box, and the Justificatif de Déplace­ment Professionnel, which must be filled in by you and signed and stamped by your employer.

You also need your identity card, if you have French nationality, or your carte de séjour, if you have one, or your passport with you.

What happens to unemployment benefit during confinement?

The government has introduced two measures for unemployed people during this period.

Anyone who is coming to the end of their right to unemployment benefit can continue to receive their benefits during confinement, as they are
unable to go out and look for work.

In addition, new ways of calculating unemployment benefit, due to take effect from April 1, have been postponed. They have been criticised by unions as it has been suggested that they could reduce access to benefits, and the amount and length for 40% of those who are eligible at the moment.

Can people get the virus twice?

This is a question scientists are still trying to answer. Cases have been reported in China and Japan of patients who were cured, allowed to return home, but tested positive again up to two weeks later. An article in respected magazine Sciences et Avenir says some doctors believe that it does not mean the patient has been re-infected from an outside source, but that the virus was still in undetectable quantities in the patient’s body when they were given the all-clear and sent home, and then developed again.

It is possible that although someone who is infected usually develops enough anti-bodies to prevent re-infection, if they have not produced enough and they still have the virus in very small quantities, then the infection could continue. Other theories suggest the tests showing that the patients were cured were faulty.

Will the bac and brevet exams still go ahead as planned?

At present, only national exams up to April 5 are postponed.

Education minister Jean-Michel Blanquer told French radio that decisions had not yet been made for the bac and brevet but nothing was impossible and the exams could be postponed or changed in form to take into account missed lessons.

The calendar for Parcoursup, the platform for further education applications remains unchanged at present.

If you have any questions on the Covid-19 lockdown, there is a free government phone helpline, in French, to help. 
When we called, we had to wait four minutes, then got through to someone who was very helpful.
Open 24 hours, the number is 0 800 130 000.

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