The cities of Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne are to be put on “maximum alert” in France, alongside a series of new measures to fight Covid-19 announced by the minister for health last night.
Olivier Véran and Economy Minister Bruno le Maire confirmed the new rules at a press conference yesterday (Thursday October 8). We summarise the main changes.
Lille, Lyon, Grenoble and Saint-Etienne on maximum alert
The new status will come into force on Saturday morning (October 10). The cities will join the Aix-Marseille area, Paris, Hauts-de-Seine, Seine-Saint-Denis and Val-de-Marne in closing bars, and some other establishments open to the public.
Toulouse and Montpellier to be re-evaluated on Monday
These cities and surrounding areas - which are already on high alert - are under observation, Mr Véran said, with a decision on their status - whether to place them on maximum alert or not - expected for Monday morning (October 12). The same process happened for Paris and its surroundings, and three days later it was placed on maximum alert.
Dijon and Clermont-Ferrand on “high alert”
This status will also come into force from Saturday morning. This means that bars will need to close at 22:00 at the latest, and gatherings of more than 10 people are banned. Public spaces will no longer be able to accommodate more than 5,000 people.
This status is already active in Bordeaux, Nice, Toulouse, Rouen, Montpellier and Rennes.
Other cities showing signs of improvement
Mr Véran confirmed a “small improvement” in the health situation in Nice and Bordeaux, and a “positive uptick” around Aix-Marseille and in Rennes.
However, their status remains the same for now. The government hopes to “be able to announce good news, maybe next week”, the health minister said.
Support funds to be increased
Mr Le Maire confirmed that the government would widen access to aid available to businesses suffering from the consequences of the pandemic. The amount available is calculated based on business from the same time in 2019, and is now capped at €10,000 per month.
The aid will now be available to businesses across even more sectors that have been directly affected by the crisis - especially those suffering due to the cancellation of all large events and weddings - such as florists, invitation designers, wedding planners, event planners, photographers and more.
The new rules will mean 75,000 more businesses may be eligible for aid, bringing the number to 225,000. Businesses in the tourism, culture, and sports sectors were already eligible.
Businesses that have been affected - but not completely closed - will be able to claim up to 70% of their lost business amount, rather than 80%, as was the case before. However, businesses with up to 50 workers will now be able to claim, up from the previous cap of 20.
Partial unemployment benefit at 100% until the end of 2020 in some sectors
Mr Le Maire also confirmed that the state would pay 100% of the salary compensation (rather than the usual 85%) available to workers in the worst-affected sectors, such as tourism, events, culture, and sport. This is set to last until the end of the year.
Cancellation of social payments extended
Businesses affected by closures, or restrictions on opening times (such as bars that are required to close by 22:00), will be exempt from social charges throughout the time of restrictions, if they have reported a loss of up to 50% of their usual business.
Businesses that are now eligible for government aid can also now request exemption - retrospectively - from payments from the period of February-May 2020.
A warning before the Toussaint holidays
The Toussaint holidays will last from October 17 to November 2 in France, and Mr Véran called on the public to be alert on the subject of travelling, especially to see elderly family members.
He said: “Protect yourselves, protect your loved ones, be extremely careful. The summer example, and especially the month of August [when cases rose] should serve as a collective lesson to us all.”
The minister stopped short of banning holidays or advising people not to travel at all.
He said: “We are not in a situation where the virus is spreading as much as we saw last spring. The virus is spreading a lot in most towns, save a few exceptions. Travelling from one area to another is not likely to bring the virus somewhere where it is not already.”
His comments echo those made by President Emmanuel Macron this week, who did not explicitly tell people not to travel either, but said that the government strategy was to “encourage citizens’ responsibility”.
Mr Macron said: “We are not, and for several months we will not be, in normal times. We must continue to strictly apply the rules, and to be each collectively responsible, and take care of ourselves, and of the most fragile [among us] and of our healthcare workers.”
Covid-19 in France: Latest figures
There were 18,129 new cases of Covid-19 confirmed in France in the past 24 hours, with 1,418 new hospital admissions, reported health body Santé publique France. This is slightly down from the 18,746 seen the day before.
In the most recent 24 hours, there were 77 more deaths, and there are now 1,418 people in total in intensive care, 12 more than the day before. This is a record for intensive care cases since May, and shows that hospitals are now under increasing pressure.